In a long-awaited campaign, Ford and Volkswagen announced Friday their plan to expand their seven-month-old alliance with autonomous and electric vehicles.
As part of the deal, VW is investing no less than $ 2.6 billion in Argo AI, the autonomous auto-based startup in Pittsburgh that virtually no one had ever heard of. Ford is investing $ 1 billion in cash, as well as $ 1.6 billion in assets including the Munich-based Autonomous Intelligent Driving team of the car giant, which will be absorbed by Argo. After the deal continues, Argo's post-money valuation will be more than $ 7 billion.
In January, the two automotive industry powerhouses announced that they would join forces to build pick-up trucks and commercial vehicles, but today's announcement is a much riskier step: it broadens that collaboration with two technologies – autonomy and electrification – who have the potential to transform the way people move, but it has also proven to be incredibly expensive and difficult to get right.
The deal also gives Argo a global reach. Founded by former Uber engineers with links to the famous Carnegie Melon University laboratory, the company has tested its cars with the support of Ford in Pittsburgh, Detroit, Miami and Washington DC. Now it can also deploy its vehicles on European roads under the leadership of VW.
In addition, Ford will have access to the MEB platform for VW electric vehicles, or "Modulare E-Antriebs-Baukasten" – German for "modular electric drive matrix." The company gambles big on its MEB platform, which will serve as the basis for the 15 million electric cars & hopes to eventually sell it. Ford says the platform will be used to design and build at least one fully electric fully electric vehicle in Europe by 2023. The car manufacturer aims to deliver more than 600,000 European vehicles using the MEB architecture for six years, with a second all-new Ford model for European customers under discussion. The move would help Ford to meet European government mandates that encourage electrified vehicles and strict emissions standards.
Ford and VW have been talking for months about how they can share the enormous costs of electric and self-driving vehicles. Car companies big and small race to build on Tesla's success in electric vehicles through mass production of battery-powered SUVs and sedans. At the same time, many of the same companies are testing cars that drive themselves, either as taxis to travel around town or as delivery robots carrying groceries and other goods. But EVs still represent a small fraction of the total vehicles sold worldwide. And many of the bright predictions about massive cars without drivers that hit the road failed.
To be sure, this is not a complete marriage between Ford and VW. The two automakers would have separate autonomous vehicles under the deal and unique go-to-market strategies, but both would use Argo & # 39; s software. Although they would share Argo's technology and probably VW's EV architecture, Ford and VW have no intention of sharing revenue.
By sharing technology and data, as well as costs, Ford and VW hope to accelerate the use of electric and self-driving cars on public roads. The two companies are believed to have a free approach to these new technologies that are changing the industry. Volkswagen has deployed its future for an amount of 80 billion euros ($ 91 billion), because it is capable of producing mass & # 39; s electric vehicles in a cost-effective way – a performance that no car manufacturer comes close to. Ford has teased its first serious EV, which is expected to be in 2020, as part of a more modest roll-out. The company has announced that it intends to spend $ 11.5 billion over the coming years on the development and production of electric cars.
Meanwhile, Ford is trying to build a name in the "mobility space" by investing in parts with a ride, bike sharing and even scooter-sharing programs. The car giant has purchased electric startup Spin last year for a reported $ 100 million. It has also seen a number of its investments popping up, such as its microtransit service Chariot, which was concluded earlier this year.
Nevertheless, today's announcement is an important step for both companies, but especially for Argo. VW looked at a number of other AV startups, even with some, before deciding to support the Pittsburgh company.
A month ago VW broke off a collaboration with Aurora Innovation, the startup for autonomy, founded by Chris Urmson, a former head of Google. Argo was co-founded by Bryan Salesky, another former member of the Google self-driving team. He also sat on the same team as Urmson in the 2007 DARPA autonomous vehicle challenge, which is seen as a turning point in the pursuit of self-driving cars. Ford deposited $ 1 billion in Argo in 2017 and has been working closely with the startup ever since.
Companies have been committed to working on self-driving cars for years, but it has only recently been ruthless more serious overtones. In the past few months: