Ford CEO Mark Fields recently visited Business Insider’s office, and he said some interesting things about how the automaker learns from its competitors.
“We do teardowns of all major competitive vehicles,” Fields said at the time in response to a question about whether the company would dismantle the new Tesla Model X SUV in the same way it took apart the Model S sedan.
“I’m a big believer that you should never shut yourself off to learning,” he said.
Well, Ford made good on that pledge and did buy a Model X, according to Bloomberg’s Dan Hull and Keith Naughton.
One thing: Ford didn’t drive a particularly hard bargain — it paid $212,000 in total, once it got finished with taxes and title in Michigan.
When Fields met with BI, he quipped that the company would always “negotiate to get a good deal” when buying cars for teardowns.
This all occurred in the context of Field echoing an entertaining comment he made about the Model S on an earnings call in 2014: “We have driven the Model S, torn it down, put it back together, and driven it again — we’re very familiar with that product,” he said.
So why does Ford do this in the first place? “We learn things about technology, and we learn things about costs,” Fields told Business Insider. “And in many cases we can say that we do that better, and in some cases we say, ‘Oh my gosh, here’s a neat idea, how do we adopt that into our process?'”
Tesla gets a lot of attention for its innovative, high-tech electric vehicles, but Ford competes globally in numerous segments and needs to keep pace with everyone. The carmaker is always looking to keep pace with new design and engineering challenges.
Fields also told BI that Ford was also rolling out over-the-air, or OTA, software updates; it’s part of the new Sync 3 infotainment system the company has used since 2007 and developed originally with Microsoft. Sync Connect is a modem-base addition to a system that is undergirded by BlackBerry software.
“It’s coming,” Fields said.
Tesla has delighted owners with OTA updates that can make a Model S seem like a new car literally overnight. For example, owners with vehicles equipped for Autopilot semiautonomous driving woke up after the update was released last year to find their cars ready to drive themselves.
Major automakers are now moving in this direction. General Motors will be using OTA updates in a limited manner. They’re unlikely to be quite as ambitious as Tesla, still a small company that can push the envelope on technology.
The big players in the industry have been happy to observe CEO Elon Musk’s experiments and follow them when they make sense.
And in Ford’s case, it looks like the company really wanted to check out the Model X.