Bracing for a Hazy Robo-Future, Ford and VW Join Forces

Sensor Partnership. Subsidiaries acquisitions. Software collaboration. The autonomous driving world is about being as impenetrable as the Caligula's palace, and it became a bit more then today when Ford and Volkswagen announced a formal and long-awaited alliance.

"The alliance we are building now, from the first formal agreement, will strengthen both partners' competitiveness in a time of rapid change," said Herbert Diess, CEO of Volkswagen, on a conversation with journalists. He and Ford CEO Jim Hackett said The partnership – which is not a merger – will begin by jointly developing and building medium-sized pickups and commercial vans, to debut as early as 2022. Car manufacturers said the event should "improve annually before operating profit" by 2023. So hopefully this will all richer.

Since then, the companies have signed a "memorandum of understanding" to work with electric cars, autonomous vehicles and mobility services. The form and details of these partnerships have not yet been determined.

Diess is entitled to "rapid change "The automotive industry has changed remarkably in the last decade, with new car and vehicle adjoining technology issues. ill-Tesla, Waymo, Aurora, Argo AI injection of fresh blood (and panic) into the business of building cars. Ford and VW seem to think banding together will help them not only survive but thrive.

The companies must do it in a world where human driver is eventually omitted. The road to self-driving dominance is not yet ready. What services will car manufacturers do for themselves? What technologies will they build and own? Ford and VW have spent the last few years answering various answers to these questions, and by joining forces, each of them has diversified its AV portfolio. There may be evidence, as car author Pete Bigelow points out that companies are taking smart strategic decisions on how to spend their R&D dollars in this confusing, meanwhile. Or they are flailing. Maybe both.

Both VW and Ford already have (quasi) automated automation system teams. VW has built a 150-person "Autonomous Intelligent Driving" unit as part of the Audi brand, which builds a full AV software stack. (Audi itself has pledged to spend $ 16 billion on electric and self-propelled vehicles through 2023.) And the German automaker is self-driving with the AV developer Aurora, led by self-propelled tech veterans.

Ford has a large share in the Pittsburgh-based AV software company Argo AI, whose work is an important element of the automaker's promise to have a fully automated robot operation in operation by 2021. And it has spent time and money to settle on the "mobility" tech, the purchase of companies such as transit software maker TransLoc, the transport cloud platform Autonom, (recently killed) shuttle bus Chariot, and the scooter-corporation Spin. It tries to figure out how best to connect customers to transport, and what they want out of a transportation service, anyway.

It is not yet clear how these various mixes will affect Ford and VW's work. Argo AI is involved in the discussions between the companies, but specifications are scarce. "We're not going to wonder about the details of the advanced discussions going on," said Alan Hall, a Ford spokesman.

Khobi Brooklyn, a spokesman for Aurora, did not say what role the company could play in the alliance. "As we continue to build relationships across the transport ecosystem with vehicle vendors, transport networks and fleet management operations, we are confident that we will be able to deliver the benefits of self-propelled technology safely, quickly and broadly," she said in a statement. Aurora has said it has not ruled out working with other car manufacturers on self-propelled cars; It also has partnerships with Hyundai and EV startup Byton.

Another element of this "diversification" that will benefit both companies: They gain easier access to the other region's forces and regulatory environments. VW has invested serious money in South America, Africa and China. But despite a new plan to establish a factory in Tennessee, the German car manufacturer is weaker in the US, Ford's home-made turf. "From the Volkswagen perspective, it would be very sensible to work with a US player, given that the regulatory conditions for preparing the breakthrough of autonomous driving are more advanced in the United States than in Europe," Diess told reporters. Break out the German-English dictionaries.

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