Ford Hires Apple Car Chief in Coup for Recovering Automaker

(Bloomberg) — Ford Motor Co. is hiring the head of Apple Inc.’s car project away from the iPhone maker, a stunning development that brings the 118-year-old automaker an executive with Silicon Valley chops.

Doug Field is coming aboard as chief advanced technology and embedded systems officer, Ford said in a statement. Field also previously worked as a top engineer at Tesla Inc. between two stints at Apple — most recently as a vice president in its special projects group — and played a major role at Tesla launching the Model 3 sedan.

The hire is a coup for Ford, which has made major strides under Chief Executive Officer Jim Farley in convincing investors it can compete with Tesla and others on electric vehicles and technology. Ford shares have almost doubled since Farley took over in October, after his two predecessors presided over a years-long slump.

“This is a watershed moment for our company — Doug has accomplished so much,” Farley said in a briefing with reporters. “This is just a monumental moment in time that we have now to really remake” the automaker.

Bloomberg News reported the move earlier Tuesday, citing people familiar with the matter. Ford shares reversed a decline on the news and rose 0.5% at the close of regular trading in New York, while Apple gained about 1.6%, off its intraday high.

Apple said it’s grateful for the contributions Field made and that it wishes him well at Ford. The departure marks another significant setback for Apple’s automotive efforts. The company’s car project has gone through several strategy and leadership shake-ups since it started to take shape around 2014. 

‘Apple Car’ Speculation

Apple has become the world’s most valuable company, with an almost $2.6 trillion market capitalization, by selling smartphones, tablets, personal computers and services. Investors and customers have been clamoring for new device categories, and speculation about the car project was rampant early this year.

Some Apple engineers on the project believe the company could release a product in five to seven years if the company decides to go ahead with one, people with knowledge of the efforts said in January. Discussions with some major automakers, including Hyundai Motor Co., have stalled, Bloomberg reported in March.

Field joined in 2018 and is at least the fourth member of the car group’s management team who has left since February and the fourth Apple car division chief to leave in since it started.

Field’s Path

Field is coming full circle, having begun his career as an engineer at Ford. He returns as the key player in the automaker’s push to create a continuous flow of revenue from deploying services into vehicles via software. Farley has said Ford’s future depends not on selling cars one at a time, but on selling features to owners to constantly update their cars like they do their phones. 

“There’s no company with a better history in this industry,” Field told reporters. “After meeting and talking to Jim and other leadership at Ford, I became convinced that not only was the history here, but that there was a deep desire to really change and embrace these technologies.”

Recurring revenue has become the holy grail for automakers looking to break free of the industry’s historical boom-and-bust cycles. Whereas Tesla has offered over-the-air updates for years, Ford has recently started offering features including a hand-free driving system on its electric Mustang Mach-E and F-150 pickup for a fee.

Field said he plans to keep his home in Silicon Valley, while also purchasing a new home in the Detroit area.

“I’m in Michigan right now and I will be here whenever I’m needed in order to push things forward,” Field said. But “it’s important actually in this role for me to make sure that I’m in touch with the talent and technologies and things that are emerging in Silicon Valley.”

(Updates with Field’s planned living arrangement in final two paragraphs)

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