A conversation with Ford CEO Alan Mulally

At CES 2010, Molly Wood interviews Ford CEO Alan Mulally about in-car technology, electric vehicles, flying cars, and the future of American automakers.

Ford is having a good year, and it shows in CEO Alan Mulally's demeanor. During my interview with him at CES 2010, just a few hours after his keynote address, it was clear the ebullient executive is serious about turning Ford into a car brand for geeks, and optimistic about his company's outlook.

At the show, Ford continued to push some major tech into cars , announcing a slew of in-cabin technology advances like a Ford Sync API that will lead to mobile apps that work with your in-car Sync system. Ford will roll out the upgrade to Sync later this year with kickoff apps Pandora, Stitcher, and one called OpenBeak that lets you get your Twitter feed read to you. The company also announced its next-generation vehicle "cockpit," the MyFord Touch system, a highly connected car interface that will start appearing on 2011 model year cars later this year.

I asked Mulally whether tech is one of the ways Ford will return to dominance, and he said there's no question the Sync system and the company's tech advancements are a huge selling point. He said 77 percent of people who have used Sync consider it a reason to buy a Ford. But, he said, the company is also focused on safety in the car. I asked him about the problem of potentially dangerous distraction in the vehicle, and he said the MyFord Touch system is designed to let drivers control their media with buttons on the steering wheel as well as with voice recognition.

We also talked about green car tech: Mulally said Ford is not necessarily focused on creating a show-off electric vehicle (a clear dig at competitors like the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf ), and is instead taking a spaghetti-against-the-wall approach to sustainable carmaking, focusing on hybrid technology and improved fuel efficiency across the line.

I also asked whether Mulally believes that Ford sold more cars this year as a result of not taking federal bailout money, and he said he thought Ford's relatively strong position compared to other U.S. automakers gave people confidence that the cars and the company could be trusted. And as long as Mulally's willing to get into the geek world, we talked a bit about flying cars (they're not planning to make any) and fully automated vehicles (he's not willing to give up the wheel). All in all, it was a fun and relaxed conversation, and Mulally certainly gives the impression of a man excited to be running the company he's running.

 

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