Ford COO Mark Fields gave the keynote address at last month's New York International Auto Show. Fields will become Ford's CEO on July 1. Photo credit: Ford Motor Company

Even though it didn't have any major new models to announce, Ford (F -1.16%) had a big presence at last month's New York International Auto Show.

Ford celebrated the 50th anniversary of the original Mustang's debut by unveiling a commemorative model -- and with an epic stunt at the Empire State Building. The company also showed off its refreshed-for-2015 Focus, and many key Ford executives were on hand.

Those executives included Ford's Chief Operating Officer, Mark Fields. Fields opened the New York show's media days with a keynote speech that framed the show as a showcase of innovation.

Fields' speech keyed off of the 1964 World's Fair -- where the original Mustang was unveiled, and which Fields attended as a small child -- to talk about innovation, the characteristics of innovative companies, and how Ford is looking to the future of transportation.

It was a fascinating speech, one that got even more fascinating with last week's announcement that Fields will soon succeed Alan Mulally as Ford's President and Chief Executive Officer. 

We (the Motley Fool's John Rosevear and Rex Moore) were in the room when Fields spoke, and we captured the speech on video. In light of Ford's announcement of Fields' impending promotion, we've decided to share excerpts of the speech that -- we think -- shed light on the current thinking of Ford's brain trust at a moment when the company is preparing for a significant transition.

In this excerpt, Fields talks about Ford's vision for the future of cars -- or as he puts it, "personal mobility". Building on a series of ideas first presented by Executive Chairman Bill Ford in an important TED talk in 2011, Fields explains how -- and why -- Ford is pushing ahead with plans to build self-driving cars and other advanced technologies, and why Ford no longer thinks of itself as a "car company", but as a mobility company.

Check out this presentation by Ford's next CEO, and scroll down to leave a comment with your thoughts.. 

A transcript (provided by Ford) of the excerpt is included below.


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Mark Fields: So now, it's time to look ahead. How can we apply what we've learned about innovation, starting with the 1964 World's Fair, and up through today? One sure bet is that the fundamentals of innovation will guide the way. As we look to 2020 and beyond, there are a number of changes we already can see:

  • The global population is growing;
  • Life expectancies are increasing;
  • And today's emerging markets are becoming the epicenter of growth.

We are already seeing this in China, once viewed as an emerging market. Today, China is the world's largest car market -- and the world's largest market for luxury goods. In the next few years, we expect China also could be the largest market for luxury vehicles.

Consider that there are about 7 billion people in the world today. Yet within our lifetime, that number will approach 9 billion. There also are more than 300,000 people over the age of 100 in the world today. By 2050, that number could surpass 2.5 million. Finding ways to design vehicles with these customers in mind will need to be a focus.

This topic of personal mobility is one that our executive chairman, Bill Ford, started talking about three years ago at a TED conference.

Right now, there are about 1 billion vehicles on the road worldwide. And it took roughly 100 years to get to this level. Yet, with more people and greater prosperity, many experts believe that number will double in the next 20 years, and then possibly double again.

So as the world changes, we in the auto industry have a decision to make. We can think like car companies, and view this growth as merely a sales opportunity. Or, we can think like innovators, and as Bill Ford has encouraged, find ways to reduce consumers' wasted time and resources in traffic and work to avoid the potential for global gridlock. It's why we at Ford are thinking not just like a car company, but like a mobility company.

We have laid out our Blueprint for Mobility, which spells out the new technologies, the business models and the partnerships we will need to make the world a better place going forward. It includes having on the road today several key building blocks that will lead to one solution for mobility, which is semi- and fully autonomous vehicles.

This includes adaptive cruise control and collision warning, which helps drivers maintain a safe distance from other vehicles. Our lane-keeping aid audibly warns drivers if they're veering out of a lane, and can even automatically apply steering force in the direction the driver needs to steer. Ford's active park assist and perpendicular park assist help drivers find parking spaces, and then safely and easily steer into them.

We're also working with governments and partners around the world on vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications. And we're collaborating with several universities and State Farm to explore the future of automated driving and other advanced technologies, including our automated Fusion Hybrid research vehicle.