Ford poaches top tech executive Doug Field who helped lead Apple’s top-secret car project

Ford Motor Co. displays a new 2021 Ford F-150 pickup truck at the Rouge Complex in Dearborn, Michigan, September 17, 2020.

Rebecca Cook | Reuters

DETROIT – Ford Motor said Tuesday it hired former Tesla and Apple executive Doug Field to lead its emerging technology efforts, a key focus for the automaker under its new Ford+ turnaround plan.

Field — who led development of Tesla’s Model 3 —most recently served as vice president of special projects at Apple, which reportedly included the tech giant’s Titan car project.

The hire is a major addition for Ford and a big hit to Apple and its secret car project, which the company has yet to confirm exists.

“I think any time you lose a well-respected, experienced executive who, as best we can tell, was really directing the automotive efforts at Apple, it’s a blow to any company,” Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi, who covers the iPhone maker, told CNBC’s “Closing Bell.” 

Apple, in an emailed statement, said: “We’re grateful for the contributions Doug has made to Apple and we wish him all the best in this next chapter.”

Ford said Field will serve in the new position of chief advanced technology and embedded systems officer. He will lead Ford’s vehicle controls, enterprise connectivity, features, integration and validation, architecture and platform, driver assistance technology and digital engineering tools.

“His talent and commitment to innovation that improves customers’ lives will be invaluable as we build out our Ford+ plan to deliver awesome products, always-on customer relationships and ever-improving user experiences,” Ford CEO Jim Farley said in a statement. “We are thrilled Doug chose to join Ford and help write the next amazing chapter of this great company.” 

Field, who will report to Farley, actually began his professional career at Ford in 1987, according to his LinkedIn profile. He then held positions at Johnson & Johnson, Deka Research & Development and Segway before starting at Apple in 2008. After more than five years with the tech giant, he moved to Tesla before returning to Apple in 2018.

In 2016, Apple reportedly abandoned plans to build its own car, focusing more on developing the software for autonomous driving. Field’s most recent stint at Apple was seen by industry insiders as an indication that the company was again looking at building its own vehicles.

His most recent stint at Apple was seen by some industry insiders as a re-emphasis on vehicle design after the company refocused its efforts on autonomous driving software.

Field declined to discuss his work at Apple, but he said there’s “nothing that prevents me from being fully engaged at Ford” when asked if his former employer made him sign a non-disclosure agreement.

“Apple doesn’t talk about new products, and I’m not going to talk about my work at Apple either,” he said Tuesday during a call with reporters. “But there’s nothing that prevents me from being fully engaged at Ford, and I’m looking forward to using everything I’ve learned from all of the teams I’ve worked with and all the companies I’ve been privileged to be a part of.”

Field said he decided to join Ford after speaking with company executives and realizing there’s a “deep desire” to remake the automotive industry, specifically with connected vehicles.

Connected vehicles are a key part to Ford’s new turnaround plan that’s designed to reposition the automaker to generate more recurring revenue through software services.

Farley described the Field’s hire as a “watershed moment” for the automaker. It follows Ford Chair Bill Ford telling CNBC that the automaker would be announcing new executives to Farley’s management team.

– CNBC’s Kevin Stankiewicz and Kif Leswing contributed to this report

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