By John Dolan
The global head of the Ford empire has sent a bullish message to Apple after it announced plans to break into the motoring market: "We are willing to take on all comers."
William Clay Ford Jr used his visit to the company's roots in West Cork yesterday to address Apple's decision this week to begin testing driver-less 'autonomous' vehicles of the future.
"We would rather be friends, but we are willing to punch it out if we have to," declared the Executive Chairman of Ford Motor Company.
It's an intriguing battle that pits the two big beasts of Cork's industrial jungle past and present. Ford employed 7,000 in Cork at one stage in the 20th century, while Apple is the city's biggest employer in the 21st century.
However, Mr Ford, great-grandson of his company's founder, Henry Ford, also didn't rule out linking up with Apple as companies around the world race to develop autonomous vehicle technology.
"We are willing to take on all comers," he said. "But there is an equal possibility these competitors could become collaborators. The scenario has yet to play out.
"We will see lots of alliances, we may compete with them on one front and co-operate on another. I don't rule anything out.
"One thing is for sure, we are here for the duration."
Speaking as he and his family visited the Ballinascarthy homestead where Henry Ford's father was born to mark the centenary of the company in Ireland, William also addressed the two great economic challenges for Ireland - Brexit and the Donald Trump administration.
Regarding the new US President, he said: "One thing the President really does believe in is creating jobs for Americans."
However, he said that was not "a zero sum game" - an American term indicating this did not have to mean a jobs deficit in other countries.
He added: "I talk personally with the Trump administration and have been very impressed with their willingness to listen and to get our input."
However, Mr Ford admitted that Brexit was "concerning" and "on balance, would not be good" for his company.
"It has an impact on our business and to the extent that it inhibits free trade, that's not a good thing," he said. "Free trade is where we all need to work towards.
"We live in an inter-connected world, we at Ford manufacture all around the world, we sell all around the world and have suppliers from all around the world. We can't unscramble the egg."
However, showing that his position as head of a global motoring company did not obscure his family ties, Mr Ford added: "Our family here are farmers and Brexit is having an immediate impact on that through currency change.
"But Ford Motor Company is 114 years old and we've been through so many taxation regimes and we not only survive, we thrive."
Mr Ford, 59, is due to address an audience at UCC this morning as part of his two-day visit, discussing the way ahead for the motoring industry.
He said this would involve designing autonomous and electric vehicles together.
"Autonomous vehicles will make people's lives better," he said, "they will free up traffic and stop pollution.
"But people ask me what year will we see it and we just don't know yet.
"People get enthralled by technology but we need to take a step back and ask how is this technology helping people? We don't have all the answers to that yet."