Bill Ford talks Trump and autonomous cars at Automotive News World Congress

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DETROIT — Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford discussed President-Elect Donald Trump and autonomous (self-driving) vehicles at the 2017 Automotive News World Congress. He spoke on Tuesday evening inside the Detroit Marriott inside the Renaissance Center.

Back in September, Ford CEO Mark Fields said the automaker would move all small car production to a new facility that would be built in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. Then, Donald Trump fired back saying, “When that car comes back across the border into our country that now comes in free, we’re gonna charge them a 35% tax. And you know what’s gonna happen, they’re never going to leave.”

Then on Tuesday, Jan. 3, the carmaker cancelled all plans to build a new manufacturing facility in Mexico. Fields said Ford will instead invest $700 million at its Flat Rock Assembly Plant and create 700 new jobs in Michigan. The plant will be used to build a new electric small SUV and an autonomous hybrid vehicle.

Bill Ford said he visited Trump at his New York City skyscraper, Trump Tower. The executive chairman said the meeting went very well. He said the president-elect listened very well and also asked some questions.

“We were everything he should be celebrating,” Ford said of the Trump visit. “I had a great meeting with him. When he got elected he called me thereafter. We talked about taxes currency manipulation and trade. I called him last Tuesday that’s when he tweeted. We’re not going to make dumb business decisions. We’re putting more jobs in Michigan. I’m pleased he chose Elaine Chao as secretary of transportation.”

Ford also noted that Mike Pence was a great choice for vice president because he comes from the manufacturing state of Indiana. Then, KC Crain asked if Ford would accept a position on Trump’s team.

“I love what I’m doing…I’d never go. He’s got a lot on his plate. It’s interesting how responsive he is. He calls whenever he feels like it.” The crowd laughed.

Bill Ford said that the automaker is now looking at large cities like New York and Los Angeles as potential customers. He indicated that autonomous vehicles would begin there first. Ford predicted that self-driving vehicles would take longer to adapt to suburbs and rural areas.

In cities you won’t own a vehicle,” Ford explained. “We do want to make people’s lives better all around the world. We have some joint ventures with GM on some components. We have targeted cities as a customer. Tell us your issues. We need to understand what their problems are. They’re already worried about it and dealing with it. You’ve got sensors embedded in roads and street signs.

The executive chairman said Michigan is at the forefront of autonomous vehicle development and testing.

Autonomoy is going to be exciting. The governor wanted Michigan to be the place where a lot of this mobility was developed. Mcity in Ann Arbor and the Willow Run Airport. The potential revenue streams are exciting.

However, there are some issues that Bill Ford is worried about.

“I’m concerned about the soft side of autonomy. I think about what if there’s an incident … how far will that set it back? These kinds of issues have to be worked out. We will make mistakes along the way and we have to accept that. If we get it wrong, we’ll be irrelevant. I think there are going to be real winners and real losers. It’s going to play out over the next 10 years.”

The Dearborn-based automaker announced at the Detroit auto show that it would bring back the Ford Ranger in 2019 and the Ford Bronco in 2020. In addition, Ford said it will offer a diesel version of its best-selling F-150 pickup truck.

Also that evening, the 2016 IHS Markit Loyalty Awards were presented:

  • Overall Loyalty to Manufacturer: General Motors
  • Overall Loyalty to Make: Ford
  • Most Improved Loyalty to Make: Tesla
  • Highest Conquest Percentage: Jeep
  • Most Improved Conquest Percentage: Volvo
  • Most Improved Super Loyalists: Cadillac
  • Ethnic Market Loyalty to Make:  Ford
  • African American Market Loyalty to Make: Ford
  • Asian Market Loyalty to Make: Mercedes-Benz
  • Hispanic Market Loyalty to Make: Toyota


The IHS Markit 2016 Model Year Loyalty Award trophies before they were presented. (Jason Rzucidlo/AmericaJR)


Ford Marketing General Manager Chantel Lenard accepts the Overall Loyalty to Make award. (Jason Rzucidlo/AmericaJR)


General Motors North American President Alan Batey accepts the Overall Loyalty to Manufacturer award. (Jason Rzucidlo/AmericaJR)


Tesla Motors received the Most Improved Loyalty to Make award. (Jason Rzucidlo/AmericaJR)


Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford chatting with KC Crain of Automotive News. (Jason Rzucidlo/AmericaJR)


Bill Ford says the automaker’s decision to invest in the Flat Rock assembly plant instead of moving to Mexico was not because of Trump’s reaction. He argued that Ford made the decision on their own. (Jason Rzucidlo/AmericaJR)


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