Failed Google deal left Fields in the lurch
At the end of 2015, it looked like Ford's then-CEO Mark Fields was going to score a big win: a partnership with Google to develop autonomous vehicles.
The deal would have been a huge boon to Ford. At the time, none of the major automakers had spelled out a serious plan for getting fully self-driving cars on the road. And despite posting solid profits, Ford's shares were falling because investors didn't see anything coming down the line that they felt excited about. An announcement of a Ford-Google pairing could have significantly moved the needle on Ford's share prices.
A look back at the timeline of the Ford-Google talks reveals a moment that became a turning point in Fields' career at Ford. His failure to pull off the deal indirectly left Ford struggling to voice an autonomous vehicle strategy that resonated with stakeholders and led to the emergence of Jim Hackett as his replacement as CEO.
Sources with knowledge of the talks said the deal came undone because Fields' enthusiasm for Wall Street's reaction didn't mesh with Google's desire to lay the groundwork for a quiet, technical partnership in which each side learned from the other before deciding how to move forward.
A spokeswoman for Ford said the company does not comment on rumors or speculation.
Google was comfortable with the Silicon Valley approach of "frenemies" — sometimes partnering with competitors so each side can learn something. That concept seemed anathema to Ford, sources said.
Within weeks of the deal falling apart, Executive Chairman Bill Ford identified Hackett, a member of Ford's board, as someone who had a good relationship with Silicon Valley. Hackett was named head of the new Ford Smart Mobility unit just a few weeks after that and was named CEO a little more than a year later. Here's how it went down.
Early 2015Google's autonomous program was emerging as a leader in the self-driving realm, but the tech giant didn't have a viable car platform to build on. Google wanted its first partnership to be with a carmaker that had a solid lineup of hybrid electric vehicles and was interested in learning how to integrate autonomous technology into production-car platforms. Google was drawn to Ford because of its reputation and scale, sources said. Google had been retrofitting Lexus RX 450h crossovers with self-driving tech, then it developed a cute car platform that looked like a koala. Those koala cars topped out at 25 mph and were designed primarily for testing, not selling to consumers.
Details on who reached out to whom first or how the talks began are unclear. But in 2015, executives in the Google autonomous car project, then run by Chief Technology Officer and technical lead Chris Urmson, began discussing a partnership with Ford executives.
The deal would not be exclusive: Google was free to collaborate with other automakers. But Ford argued that the partnership had to be big enough to make sense for the automaker and said it needed a large-scale commitment to justify the costs. Only a strategic partnership with long-term commitments would convince Wall Street this deal was beneficial to both sides, Ford said.
By the fall, both companies were getting close to signing an agreement....MUCH MORE