Mr Mark Fields remembers being treated like a Neanderthal when he joined Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates on stage at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas to introduce the Sync in-car infotainment system.
The sceptical tech press in 2007 could not seem to understand what Mr Fields, who then ran Ford businesses throughout the Americas, was doing at a show known for cutting-edge phones and video games, he said.
Now, cars are among the main attractions at the International CES featuring vehicles with touchscreen dashboards and others controlled by smartwatches. Mr Fields is making a triumphant return as Ford’s chief executive officer, where he will deliver a speech about the dawn of the connected-car era.
Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche will be there, too, discussing the latest concept of a self-driving Mercedes-Benz. They join a record 10 carmakers showing their wares on an exhibit space the size of three football fields.
“CES has become a major launch point for a lot of the big automakers,” said Mr Mark Boyadjis, technology analyst for researcher IHS.
The evolution of Ford’s CES exhibit tells the story of the automotive ascent at the trade show that attracts 140,000 visitors. Five years ago, Ford displayed its new Taurus on a piece of carpet. This year, Ford has a two-storey display with five vehicles, a wall of digital screens and private offices for conducting business.