By on January 8, 2014


While much of the attention focused on Ford Motor Company’s personnel news has been focused on CEO Alan Mulally’s announcement that he’s not leaving for Microsoft, FoMoCo has made another important decision, who is going to head one of Mulally’s pet projects, Ford’s in-vehicle communications technology. Automotive News reports that Don Butler, 50, the highly regarded longtime General Motors executive who most recently was in charge of Cadillac’s global growth strategy and before that headed the brand’s marketing, was named executive director of connected vehicles and services, effective immediately.

Butler’s departure from GM last year was a surprise both in and out of the company, and the appointment of a marketing person to head a technology driven unit might also seem surprising but Butler actually has a long technology resume.

In 2002, Butler was named vice president of commercial development for GM’s OnStar telematics unit. While at OnStar, he was responsible for the Virtual Advisor program, a voice-activated system for accessing weather and other information services. In 2009 he briefly left GM to run marketing for a Seattle telematics startup named Inrix Inc. before returning to the automaker the following year to take over marketing for Cadillac. Butler had a major role in the 2012 launch of the Cadillac User Experience telematics system, known as CUE.

Part of Butler’s job at Ford will be overseeing the expansion of the company’s Sync AppLink to an additional 3.4 million FoMoCo vehicles this year. Sync Applink lets users control smartphone apps with voice commands through the car’s infotainment system.

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9 Comments on “Former Cadillac Marketing Head Don Butler to Head Ford’s In-Vehicle Comm Tech...”

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    It’s amazing. Back in 2007, you never would have seen this kind of focus on radios and infotainment systems. Radios that had large, color-displays without having navigation were few and far between, and the navigation systems themselves really weren’t pretty or particularly powerful. But everyone has since taken BMW’s method of making boutique infotainment systems, so now you have MyLink/IntelliLink, CUE, MMI, COMAND, Ucomnect, Entune, and of course MyFord/MyLincoln Touch. And these systems are very well integrated into the cars, to the point that they can’t even be swapped out like the old plug-and-play style units, GM’s Global-A architecture vehicles (which began with the 2010 Camaro, LaCrosse, Terrain and Equinox) apparently may fail to operate at all if radio units or instrument panels are swapped out. So since a customer now has to live with a system for pretty much the life of the vehicle, it’s very important that it is an enjoyable experience, Also, focus needs to be placed on how these systems will stay relevant in the future, so you don’t end up with something like the now-embarrassing infotainment system in the 2003-2008 Phaeton and 2003-2010 Continental…

    • 0 avatar

      “And these systems are very well integrated into the cars, to the point that they can’t even be swapped out like the old plug-and-play style units, GM’s Global-A architecture vehicles (which began with the 2010 Camaro, LaCrosse, Terrain and Equinox) apparently may fail to operate at all if radio units or instrument panels are swapped out.”

      And that’s what scares me; you know, “The car won’t start because the radio is broken.” That may be a bit of an over simplification but just because all of this can be closely integrated into a car’s, for lack of better description “operating system” doesn’t mean it should be.

      A car, with constant exposure to heat, humidity, freezing temperatures, jarring rides and physical impacts can be a brutal environment for sophisticated electronics. When this stuff takes a knee, it can be really expensive, or if the car is old enough, not possible to fix.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        Well, it’s not explicitly stated that the cars will fail to start if their radios are broken. But it is stated that cars with their modules swapped may fail to start. I’m not sure if that prohibits even a direct swap (replacing MyLink with nav with another MyLink with nav), but it definitely prohibits swapping in different types of modules than the ones that the cars came with. For instance, you can take a non-navigation-equipped Passat and slot in an antenna, a reverse camera, and one of Volkswagen’s compatible navigation radios (either the cheaper RNS-315 or the nicer RNS-510). It’s rather a plug-and-play matter. If you try and do that to a Chevy Malibu, however, you’re *definitely* going to run into issues. This is apparently because the different modules speak different languages, and the entire car is configured to interface with only the type of radio that it was equipped with. You could also swap out the cheap lowline instrument cluster display in the Jetta with an instrument cluster that features the nicer highline display (standard on Passat and up), and that’s pretty much plug-and-play as well. But you swap out the aqua IP display on a baser Malibu with a color one from a 2LT or an LTZ, that will also cause the car to behave erratically, because apparently the color unit speaks a different language than the monolithic green one, and interfaces with different modules in the car. Apparently, GM has also been playing its warning chime and turn-signal sound through head units for quite some time, so the company clearly doesn’t anticipate people swapping out radios. And none of that is even dealing with the various wiring harnesses that would have to be swapped out, and additional behind-the-dashboard modules that would have to be added. Ironically, though, the swapping of systems can be done with what is perhaps the most complicated operating system on the market, iDrive…but it costs a lot of money and you have to do some coding…

        Fact is that not long ago, it was mostly the higher-end cars that had their navigation fully-integrated into the vehicle, but not the cheaper ones. For instance, the 2003-09 Lexus GX 470’s nav system interfaced with other unseen modules in the car, and therefore wasn’t a standalone system that could be easily retrofitted to non-nav-equipped cars. Even then, it probably wasn’t impossible. However, the 2003-2009 Toyota 4Runner had a system that was pretty much a direct substitute for the normal radio, with perhaps a link to a camera at the rear. When, however, even the Chevy Spark has an infotainment system that is fully integrated into the vehicle, it means that the customer has to live with it a lot longer. It’s not as easy as buying a double-DIN radio at Best Buy and sticking it in…

    • 0 avatar

      I just can’t imagine how effectively the manufacturers can make systems that will remain relevant. I think the first mover to realize Apple or Google does consumer electronic interfaces better will win. I rent new cars and am amazed how much s’crap is loaded into the systems. No, I don’t really need to tag and save a song on the radio into my car’s hard drive. No, I don’t need my kids photos saved from my iphone on my car’s start-up screen.

    • 0 avatar

      From V.P. to a director seems like a demotion ????
      Ford must of given him a big salary for him to jump ship

  • avatar

    This guy lectured at my company. Decent speaker, nice guy, Cadillac man through and through. Big champion of the V-series. He said “why not lead with your strongest player”?

  • avatar

    From V.P. to a Directorship seems like a demotion ????
    Ford must have given him a big jump in salary

  • avatar
    B Buckner

    I think that is Butler in the opening scene of the Cimarron Design Group video. Worse than that, he actually was tasked with marketing the Aztec in 2001. Talk about tough assignments.

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