Engadget got the chance to sit down with Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally for an in-depth conversation about a range of topics from their new Focus Electric to the integration of cell phones and electronic devices into cars.
Video and more after the break.
Ford has played an increasingly important role in pushing the state of technology in the car business. Just two to three years ago, it was a rarity to have (usable) native iPod integration with a factory car stereo, let alone touchscreens, multimedia playback, voice control, apps, etc. The rapid pace of consumer electronic development over the last few years, especially with mobile electronics like smartphones and tablets is pushing consumers to demand more, and manufacturers to change the way they think about on-board electronics. Ford themselves has started calling themselves a technology company – and indeed becoming a regular presence at the Consumer Electronics Show.
It’s now becoming standard issue for your cell phone to have GPS, internet connectivity, bluetooth music streaming, and app stores full of high quality software that you can add or delete at any time. New smart phones and tablets are being released on a 6-12 month cycle, with features rapidly improving while consumer cost is the same or decreasing. The car manufacturers on the other hand are dealing with things like 3-5 year product design cycles with matching supplier contracts for things like entertainment systems, HVAC controls, etc. Ford can’t just ditch the stereo they put in the Focus last year because something better came out this year.
In addition to those limitations – it’s not the end of the world if your cell phone runs into a software bug and needs to be rebooted in the middle of playing a game. Your car on the other hand is a different story. Not only to manufacturers need to make sure the software works flawlessly – every single time, but they are also warrantying the hardware and software for 3-8 years (if you factor in extended warranties) which is far far longer than the normal 1-3 year electronics warranty.
Ford seems to be taking the right approach. Let the cell phone \ tablet \ etc companies do what they do on the software side – Ford will provide solid hardware and software on the car side, with robust integration. It’s a pragmatic approach that seems to be working.
Another thing the Engadget host brings up in the video is inductive charging for electric vehicles. The idea behind this is it would eliminate the need to physically plug in the vehicle in order to charge it. It works like those new power mats you can just set your cell phone on to charge – the devices are charged wirelessly using special power transmitters and receivers. This is a concept I’m pretty excited about. Think of it this way – rather than having to plug in your car every night when you get home – you have an inductive charger installed in the floor of your garage – all you have to do is park, and your car charges.
Extending that concept to our infrastructure could start to eliminate the need for huge (expensive) batteries, while also reducing range issues. You could add inductive charging embedded into the street under HOV lanes, almost like a slot-car set, but without the rails and connections. While you’re sitting in rush-hour traffic, your car is automatically being charged. The car’s computer (through an app or otherwise) could keep track of your monthly power usage, and add it to your home power bill each month.
This could be added to simple electric parking spots with the same function – don’t worry about plugging in – just park and go about your business. Coupling this technology with new faster charging battery technology and\or super capacitors could reduce the on-board battery cost by 50 or 75%, bringing the sticker price of electrics in line with gasoline models.
When you make the every-day commodity vehicles electric, you can then shift the cost of clean\efficient energy production up to power plants, where there is a much larger economy of scale – it’s cheaper on a per-user basis to build efficiencies into the system at the power plant level than it is if we do it at the end user location.
It’s an exciting time to be in the car industry – a little bit like computers in the late 90’s – we were just starting to realize their real potential, and the pace of development accelerated to the point that the phone in my pocket now has more raw power than the computer I was using back then.