May 312017

With tech companies piling into the automotive industry – with varying results – it’s not surprising the established auto manufacturers are looking at making alliances with their potential Silicon Valley competitors.

Ford’s alliance with Google was one of the most promising in the sector, however it fell apart in a classic clash of cultures as Automotive News reports.

One of the key differences in the cultural crash was the priority of the two businesses – for Ford this is about the future of the company while for Google autonomous vehicles are just another moonshot.

Coupled with that, Ford are locked into their traditional products and have a sceptical Wall Street to keep happy as Automotive News describe when the two company’s CEO’s met.

In early December 2015, Fields came to Silicon Valley to discuss the deal with Google co-founder Sergey Brin. In a region where there are so many electric cars that office workers often argue over charging stations to plug in their Teslas and Nissan Leafs during the workday, Fields showed up at Google with an army of staffers in a fleet of Lincoln Navigators. Sources said Fields and his team were armed with a plan to make a big splash out of the partnership news, and much of the discussion centered around making an impression on Wall Street.

With Google being generally secretive about their ‘moonshot’ programs, it’s not surprising Sergey Brin and his team were perturbed by Ford planning to make a big announcement about the partnership. Had the auto maker done its due diligence, their delegation would have been a lot less ambitious and lot more circumspect.

Ford’s casting around for tech partners also illustrates the management didn’t understand the tech industry’s politics and dynamics, not only do they have a long standing agreement with Microsoft on their Sync product but they were also touting an alliance with Amazon to incorporate Alexa into their cars.

While there’s undoubtedly some revisionism in the Automotive News story – there’s always some airbrushing of history when a new CEO takes over – the tale does illustrate the difficulties facing business owners and managers when building alliances with others who don’t necessarily have the same objectives.

A clash of cultures is always tough to overcome and that’s often the biggest challenge facing industrial giants like Ford as they deal with a rapidly changing world.

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