“I think it's actually personally surprising how much our industry talks about electrification...

“I think it's actually personally surprising how much our industry talks about electrification and doesn't talk about this digital move,” said Ford CEO Jim Farley (middle) in an interview with Emily Chang of Bloomberg and Marc Benioff of Salesforce.

Photo: Ford Motor Co.

At a media event in the vineyards of California’s Sonoma County on Jan. 25, Ford Motor Company’s CEO Jim Farley sat down with Marc Benioff, founder, chairman, and CEO of Salesforce.

Benioff and Farley are both car guys. Farley races and restores Mustangs. Benioff just bought a Ford F-350 and configured it as a fire truck, with a joystick in the center console that controls a fire nozzle in the front of the truck. Living on a small farm in Sonoma — wine country and fire country — has instigated him into taking creative precautions.

Ostensibly, Benioff was on stage to talk about new integrations: Salesforce will be the new cloud provider for Ford Pro, Ford’s new commercial division. Ford Pro also recently launched a new subscription software service, VIIZR, that will digitize paperwork and scheduling for small businesses using Salesforce Field Service technology.

But the larger message became apparent by who moderated this discussion, Bloomberg Television’s Emily Chang, interviewer of the top tech stars and better known to some for playing herself on HBO’s Silicon Valley.

Chang’s questions leaned into Ford’s technology future and its proclamation to expand into new, recurring, service-based revenue streams.

“These are not just electric propulsion systems, they’re digital vehicles,” Farley said about Ford’s new E-Transit and F-150 Lightning.

“I think our vehicles will still be really important, but I do believe the loyalty to the brand is going to be driven by the software experience. … It's where the industry is going. It's actually there now.”

More from Farley: “This is a big transition for our company. I'm really excited about the electrification of our products. But I'm actually more excited about this data, software, physical services, integrated into our business. That to me is the future of our industry. It's going to start at Ford with (Ford) Pro.”

Benioff brought it to personal, practical terms.

His F-350 fire truck is like a friend that must always be ready to go, he said. Connectivity is critical, whether it’s to a dealership for service or a volunteer fire department. “I’ve converted my F-350 to an F-360, because I now have that 360-degree view.”

He mentioned one of his building contractors who works and lives out of his truck. “We need to provide a full range of services to automate him; there's a full set of capabilities that he still doesn't have.”

More from Benioff: “Value-added services out of the cloud are going to offer us the ability to be more connected not only to our products, but to each other. And we'll be able to do that in every dimension of the business.”

Benioff raised parallels between Ford Pro and Home Depot, which opened new revenue streams in b2b after developing its longstanding b2c business. Benioff said he introduced Jim Farley to Craig Manear, the CEO of Home Depot. “They're in a parallel universe,” he said. “They’re doing the same business motion.”

Benioff said Ford Pro is similarly poised to expand its market-leading position in commercial, “Probably the most profitable market segment in the world for this company.”

Chang asked what types of services or vehicle functions Ford might monetize. “Are we going to be paying for heated seats like we pay for satellite radio?”

No charge for heated seats, Farley answered. He pointed instead to menu-based customized applications available via subscription for both commercial and retail customers such as telematics functions like dynamic routing or in-cab driver coaching.

For the commercial customer, the primary goal of these services is 100% uptime. Connected, electric vehicles will be the catalyst, with fewer parts and thus fewer mechanical issues and breakdowns — and, one day, 100% prognostics. “You’ll be able to predict the tire going flat before it happens,” Farley said.

Chang then asked Farley if he could put a number on how much revenue non-vehicle services could generate by 2030. “I don't want to put a number on it,” he said. “But I can imagine that half of our commercial revenue could be either physical services or software.”

Chang asked Farley if the pandemic accelerated the development of electrification and this push into digital services.

“No doubt about it,” said Farley, noting the explosion in lasts-mile deliveries and Ford’s van business. “During the pandemic, we became more focused on services (and) serving our customers beyond just electrifying the fleet. I think it's actually personally surprising how much our industry talks about electrification and doesn't talk about this digital move.”

Benioff: “I don't know how you do it because it's a lot of work. You're rebuilding the fundamental product, but also building the software as well. The result I think, is some of the finest automobiles that I've ever seen.”

Benioff also owns a Ford Mach-E.

Originally posted on Automotive Fleet

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Chris Brown

Chris Brown

Associate Publisher

As associate publisher of Automotive Fleet, Auto Rental News, and Fleet Forward, Chris Brown covers all aspects of fleets, transportation, and mobility.

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