CES 2016: Ford details hi-tech cars, but without Google

  • 5 January 2016
  • From the section Technology
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Media captionFord's chief executive Mark Fields discusses its self-driving car tech ambitions

We're at a fascinating crossroads in the car and technology industry.

At Monday's Faraday Future launch, much of the hoo-ha was about how Faraday Future - or FF, as they've asked us to call them - was reinventing the entire car production process.

Those old car makers, they said, were just too slow and stuck in their ways to be innovative.

And it's with that thought still fresh in our minds that CES attendees piled in to see a press conference from the most traditional of car makers, Ford.

Image copyright Ford
Image caption Mark Fields, chief executive of Ford, discussed innovations like drone-to-car communications at CES 2016

Of course, CES is a technology show, not a motor show, but these days there's little difference. In Ford's press conference, there was talk of using drone technology and cars with Knightrider-esque voice control.

"Did I shut the garage door?" was one command that your car would be able to answer back to with the help of a deal with Amazon's Alexa voice-controlled virtual assistant .

Negotiating table

The world's tech press had been expecting news of a big deal with Google - something that would see Ford's vehicles integrate Google's software, essentially making something of a smartphone on wheels.

But that didn't happen, and while Mr Fields told me that talks had taken place in private - the details of which he wouldn't share - those discussions obviously haven't led to a deal he's ready or able to talk about.

Instead, Ford is pushing ahead with its own software, known as SyncConnect.

Image copyright Ford
Image caption Ford SYNC is designed to allow users to control smart home appliances in their houses from their cars

Now, you can still use your Android or Apple device in Ford's cars as they will still support Android Auto and CarPlay. It just means the integration won't be as integral to the car as we first assumed.

And it's easy to understand why. Imagine that negotiating table with Google.

Both companies would have had something the other wants, but it's much easier for Ford to expand its efforts in the software business than it is for Google (or Apple, for that matter) to get into the mass car-making business.

That said, the Detroit Motor Show is just around the corner - some suspect a bigger announcement regarding Ford and Google may take place there.

Autonomous driving

Continuing the theme of not wanting to be outdone by Google, Ford also shared more details of its autonomous car research.

Mr Fields went to great lengths to show that Ford has been working in this area for over a decade. He announced that its autonomous vehicles had travelled many miles.

But he was unable to tell me how many of those miles had been travelled on public roads which are, of course, far more challenging than test conditions.

Image copyright Ford
Image caption Ford is using top-mounted sensors on its fleet of autonomous test vehicles

"We have a number of miles that are giving us a lot of data to improve the algorithms and also the performance of the vehicles. But clearly we're going to ramp that up this year," he said.

He almost said they had driven "a hundred" miles, but immediately corrected himself. So, in other words, barely any. It's a little behind on that front.

But Ford finished the presentation by sharing what will probably be its biggest asset in the hi-tech car future.

Unlike companies like Tesla, Mr Fields said Ford's autonomous and hi-tech cars would be for everyone, not just the super rich.

Follow Dave Lee on Twitter @DaveLeeBBC .

Read more of our CES articles and follow the BBC team covering the show on Twitter.

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