Ford believes that Apple is building a car and views technology companies as its main competitors in the future.

The automotive giant has launched a tech business in Silicon Valley working on autonomous cars and Internet of Things applications for its vehicles.

Chief executive Mark Fields said that Ford views the likes of Google and Apple as potential collaborators – and that he expects Apple is already secretly working on a vehicle.

"Our working assumption is that they are," he told the BBC.

"And that provides us with the right motivation to make sure we stay very focused, not only on the product, but overall on the experience that the customer has interacting with the product and the services that we have.

"There are a lot of traditional competitors that we have in our business who we know and we respect.

"There are a lot of new non-traditional competitors who are looking at the automotive space and looking at that addressable market and saying 'gee, can we get a piece of that?'

"We are viewing that as an opportunity, not as a threat, and there will be some things [we can do] on our own to be able to satisfy those customer needs that technology enables.

"And at other times we will partner with others and that's the reason we set up a big research and innovation centre in Palo Alto because we want to collaborate with and participate in that environment."

 Apple has hired former Tesla vice president of vehicle engineering Chris Porritt, who has also served as Aston Martin’s chief engineers.

Fields expects that ‘level 4’ driverless cars will be available by the end of the decade.

"A Level 4 vehicle is where the passenger does not have to take control of the vehicle, but it's a vehicle that's in a pre-defined area, that's been 3D mapped, and what we call geo-fenced," he said.

"And we believe when we look at the advancements in the sensors and advancements in the software algorithms which are necessary for the vehicle to navigate, that probably by the end of the decade, in the next four years or so, someone in the industry may have a Level 4 vehicle.

"It may not be us, but we are working very, very intently on this."

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