The self-driving car race heats up as Volkswagen seals its $2.6 billion investment in Argo AI
VW’s investment includes a $1 billion cash infusion and folding its $1.6 billion Autonomous Intelligent Driving unit into Argo. It’s part of a broader alliance between VW and Ford to jointly develop autonomous and electric vehicles, a partnership first announced last July. The deal vaults the world’s first and sixth largest automakers into the top ranks of a race to deploy fully self-driving cars, along with Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo and General Motors Co.’s Cruise.
With the addition of VW’s autonomous unit, Argo will have a global workforce of more than 1,000 and a new European outpost in Munich, where it will test its driverless technology, Bryan Salesky, the startup’s chief executive officer, wrote in a blog.
“This news not only solidifies our well-capitalized position, but differentiates us as the only self-driving technology platform company with partnerships and commercial agreements for deployment across the U.S. and Europe,” Salesky wrote. “Our mission is built on the importance of developing trust in self-driving technology.”
The coronavirus outbreak has set back Ford’s plan to launch robo-taxis and driverless delivery pods next year. The automaker now says it will start using Argo’s technology in 2022 so that it has more time to study the pandemic’s impact on consumer attitudes toward self-driving and shared vehicles.
“While our companies are sharing Argo AI’s technology development costs, Ford will remain independent and fiercely competitive,” John Lawler, CEO of Ford’s autonomous-vehicle unit, wrote in a separate blog post. “Sharing the development costs with Volkswagen doesn’t mean Ford is reducing its overall spend in the autonomous-vehicle space. Instead, we are reallocating the money toward our unique customer experience.”
The head of VW’s commercial-vehicles unit welcomed the completion of the deal in a post on LinkedIn.
“We at #VWCommercialVehicles look forward to jointly developing and integrating level-4 self-driving systems into our fleet of future light commercial vehicles,” wrote Thomas Sedran, CEO of VW Commercial Vehicles.