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Car and Driver: Ford Mum on Google Partnership at CES

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FordMakesNoMentionGoogle
-Everyone in the auto industry has been trying to figure out what’s up with this Ford-Google partnership. Both of those giant companies have remained relatively quiet on the topic, although the prevailing speculation was that it has something to do with, naturally, autonomous car technology. Whatever it is, it’s obviously a big deal for Ford—the world of personal transportation is changing drastically, and Ford (and GM, and everybody else) does not want to be left behind

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But in Ford’s keynote address at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, CEO Mark Fields never once mentioned the search giant by name—even though he name-dropped plenty of other Silicon Valley so-and-sos.

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“We’re completely rethinking how we approach the business, with one foot in today, and one foot in tomorrow,” Fields said at the start of the keynote address, affirming that the automaker plans to invest $4.5 billion in electric vehicle technology to bring 13 EV models to market by 2020.

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There were the expected tech show announcements—talk about Ford’s small-scale experiments in smartphone-powered ride-sharing programs, with buzzy names like “flexible car ownership” and “multi-modal mobility solutions.” Ford has been playing around with these concepts for a while now.

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And there were some substantive in-dash tech announcements too. Sync 3, Ford’s infotainment system, will boast Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability for the 2017 model year, starting with the Escape. Owners of Sync 3-equipped 2016 vehicles will be able to upgrade to get the Apple and Android integration soon as well.

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And what would CES be without large mention of the Internet of Things? Ford brought an Amazon exec onstage to talk about in-car connectivity to Amazon Echo, the cylindrical Artificial Intelligence butler whose Siri-style Alexa voice command setup lets you play music, set reminders, or (most importantly for Amazon) order a new shipment of paper towels or dish detergent using only your voice. As applied to Ford, the new integration will let you check on your fuel level or electric car battery charge state by simply asking Alexa when you’re in your house, or use voice commands to turn on the lights and fire up the next episode of your binge-watching on Amazon Prime Video as you turn on to your street during your evening commute home. Handy stuff, but by no means outrageous.

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But even when Raj Nair took the stage to talk about Ford’s big new autonomous-car push, there was no mention of anything having to do with Google. There were some big announcements, to be sure. Ford is tripling its autonomous vehicle testing fleet, bringing the grand total to 30 vehicles testing in various locations across the U.S.

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Nair made sure to call out one autonomous-driving competitor by name: Tesla Autopilot. He name-dropped Elon Musk’s autonomous tech, noting that it and all other autonomous competitors are operating at SAE Level 3 autonomy: “Conditional Automation,” where the system operates “with the expectation that the human driver will respond appropriately to a request to intervene.”

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Nair says that Ford is working on Level 4 automated driving, “High Automation,” defined by the SAE as autonomous driving “even if a human driver does not respond appropriately to a request to intervene.” He also promised that Ford is targeting Level 5 autonomy in the near future—a goal no doubt shared by everybody else operating in the autonomous sphere.

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And when Mark Fields took the stage again to close the keynote, he took a subtle jab at autonomous tech from high-priced offerings like Tesla and Mercedes-Benz. “When the first Ford autonomous vehicle comes out, it will not just be for those who can afford luxury vehicles,” Fields said.

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But as the keynote drew to a close, nobody had even uttered the name “Google”—despite a screen showing the names of many of the other organizations Ford is partnering with on self-driving tech.

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01FordKeynote

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Even after the keynote, Fields wouldn’t touch on the Google rumors.

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New: Post-presser, @Ford‘s Mark Fields says he won’t address @Google “speculation.” Won’t rule out partnership either. #CES2016

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— Pete Bigelow (@PeterCBigelow) January 5, 2016

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So what gives here? It’s hard to say. It’s possible that the automotive and tech media caught wind of a Ford-Google collaboration and let their imaginations run wild, creating dream scenarios never envisioned by the two companies. It’s also possible that Google is working with a number of automakers, and the Ford collaboration is simply the first one that the press heard about. Or maybe Ford and Google are saving their big announcement for the Detroit Auto Show, which takes place next week.

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Whatever the truth is, we sure didn’t learn anything about it at Ford’s CES presentation. Because the name “Google” was just about the only Silicon Valley tech word that wasn’t broadcast from Ford’s stage.

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This story originally appeared on Road & Track.

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2016 Consumer Electronics Show

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