Auto industry again at 'Wild West' stage — Ford boss

The automotive industry is today at a similar 'Wild West' stage to what it was when it started out over a century ago, the Executive Chairman of the Ford Motor Company says, writes Brian Byrne.

Speaking at the 'Ford 100' event in Cork commemorating the establishment of the first Ford factory outside the US in the city, William Clay Ford Jr said it is not an understatement that the industry is now on the cusp of the greatest change since it began. He noted that when his great-grandfather Henry Ford was establishing his automobile business, there were many different technologies being tested, including electric cars, steam powered cars and more.

"Some things worked, many things didn't," he said. "Things are now changing rapidly again. Autonomous cars, ownership of cars, artificial intelligence that will drive not only the cars themselves, but the companies who make them. The rate of change is spectacular, and the skill sets that are going to be needed for the change are changing too."

He said that a hundred years ago, nobody knew who the winners of the then new car industry would be, and at this stage it won't be clear for another decade who the winners of today's state of change will be. He referenced Apple and Google as new entrants to mobility, and he said that today is 'the most interesting time in my career'. "We must keep in mind that the most important thing is to improve people's lives, and these changes are going to be different in the country and the city. The companies that do it well are the ones that will endure."

Mr Ford was at University College Cork to announce a special Ford Centenary Quercus Scholarship which will support 50 talented students of the University over the next five years.

The Quercus Programme was established at UCC in 2015, with the view of promoting excellence among the undergraduate student body. The Ford scholarships will particularly target students who show outstanding promise in the areas of Active Citizenship and Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Mr Ford said that the universities will be playing an important part in the development of future mobility. Among the areas will be those of ethics and standards in an era of self-driving vehicles, especially where computers will be deciding critical issues in an imminent crash which may have serious consequences for pedestrians or vehicle occupants. "We can't all be setting our own different standards here, and I believe the conversations to set them for all need to be in the universities."

An honorary Doctorate of Economic Science was conferred on Mr Ford afterwards, reflecting the 1927 honorary Doctor of Laws degree given to Henry Ford.

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