With his aw-shucks charm (and freckles and frequent use of the word "neat"), Kansas boy Alan Mulally exudes small-town America. But since retiring as Ford's CEO in 2014 — on heroic terms — he has clearly spent a lot of time thinking about urban transportation issues.
The 73-year-old ex-car company kingpin has become a staunch advocate of mass transit. Speaking at the National Auto Auction Association's annual convention in Phoenix in November, Mulally said the "No. 1 thing that is going to really change the world" is the "continued migration of people from rural into the cities. Nothing's going to stop that.
"We've got to make the cities livable," he said. "We can't keep jamming cars into the cities as a solution, whether they're autonomous or transportation as a service or whatever."
But will urbanites accept mass transit?
"They will because the cities will be unlivable," he said. "The cars are always going to be there — because they're cars, and they're fun, they're neat, they're freedom. But we've got a bigger issue as a country and as a world."
Meanwhile, Mulally is getting a close-up look at developments in the self-driving sphere while sitting on the board of Google's parent, Alphabet.
"One of our subsidiaries is Waymo, and I work really closely with them, and I worked really closely with them while I was at Ford," he said. "They're kind of different skill sets, but on the other hand, very similar. There is so much software in a car and airplane. I always fight this with the Silicon Valley people. They get these higher [share price] multiples, and people say, 'Oh, these are tech companies.' Hello? Have you ridden on a Triple Seven? Do you know what it does?" the former Boeing chief executive said, referencing the Boeing 777.
Mulally said automakers and Silicon Valley companies must cooperate.
"You've got to tap into all these enabling technologies," he said. "No one company has it all, and you wouldn't want them to have it all. We're going to see every possible kind of relationship between the sensors, the digital processing, the computation in the cloud. ... It's going to be the all-time working together between these companies, and no one, no matter what they say, knows how it's going to turn out."