MADISON, Wis. — Google and Ford Motor Co. are expected to announce a groundbreaking cross-industry partnership deal on January 5th at the Consumer Electronics Show.
Although details of this odd-couple marriage remain unclear, the news stories first reported by Yahoo Autos Monday and quickly followed by Automotive News indicate that the two companies are talking about Ford contracting to Google’s next-generation autonomous cars.
When announced, the deal will be a seminal moment for the search engine giant, as it finally partners with a serious Detroit company. It will pave the way for Google to become a newborn car company in the commercial market. More important, the deal opens for Google the opportunity to start collecting data and analysis from “driverless” driving.
Meanwhile, Ford, the storied carmaker, might be on the road to becoming a sort of “Foxconn,” serving as ODM to many Silicon Valley software companies.
At press time, neither company had confirmed the partnership deal.
Asked about the news, a Ford’s spokesman said, “We have been and will continue working with many companies and discussing a variety of subjects related to our Ford Smart Mobility plan. We keep these discussions private for obvious competitive reasons, and we do not comment on speculation.”
Mark Fields, Ford CEO
Industry isn’t surprised. Ford has been dropping hints about wanting to establish alliances with software companies in Silicon Valley. Only a week ago, Ford flew CEO Mark Fields to the Ford Research and Innovation Center in Palo Alto, Calif., to discuss updates to Ford’s presence in Silicon Valley.
At that time, Ford announced that it starts testing autonomous vehicles on California roads next year. The company also announced its partnership with software company Pivotal to speed the development of connected car technologies.
Reached by EE Times about the upcoming Google-Ford announcement, Jeremy Carlson, senior analyst with IHS Automotive, said IHS has no confirmation of and no firm details on the likely deal. However, he added: “Ford has been open about its experiments in mobility since CES 2015, quickly expanding specific research projects on flexible ownership and multimodal urban travel.”
Ford has demonstrated “an appetite for investing into the research and development necessary to understand new and emerging opportunities,” he observed. “It makes sense that they consider any and all options to do that, and this will not likely be the only place Ford invests resources in this area.”
‘Ford doesn’t need Google. Google needs Ford’
Not every analyst, however, believes that the speculated deal makes sense.
Roger Lanctot, associate director, global automotive practice at Strategy Analytics, said, “Ford doesn’t need Google. Google needs Ford.”
In Lanctot’s view, “Google might share access to the data and analysis from their million miles of ‘driverless’ driving,” but this isn’t necessarily a deal-maker. Lanctot explained: “Now that Ford is connecting its cars with embedded modems, the company will be in a position to gather much larger volumes of data much faster [than Google]. In fact, just using its own captive fleet vehicles to connect data would produce more useful information.”
If the deal is centered on contract manufacturing, wouldn’t this make Ford what Foxconn is to Apple?
Lanctot said, “Yes. Not good.” He added, “The precedent of Ford serving as an ODM to Google is certainly a cause for concern.”
Next page: Differences in autonomous visions