Volkswagen to invest $2.6B in Ford's self-driving operations

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Volkswagen will invest $2.6 billion in Ford Motor Co.'s autonomous vehicle partner, the companies announced on Friday, as the two firms deepen their alliance to develop electric and self-driving vehicles.

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The funding will value Argo AI at more than $7 billion and give Ford and Volkswagen combined majority control of the company. The two carmakers will remain independent and competitive in the marketplace, but the joint venture on Argo allows them to "deliver unmatched capability, scale and geographic reach,” according to Ford CEO Jim Hackett.

"The partnership creates instantaneously the largest platform working" on self-driving cars, he said at a press conference on Friday. "There’s only going to be a few winners who create the platform for the future. Ford can’t be late."

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While automakers are rushing to try to deploy self-driving cars, Google's Waymo is the only firm to currently offer an autonomous ride-sharing fleet. Ford is taking a slower approach to commercial launch than rivals like General Motors, but executives have repeatedly stressed their confidence in that timeline. 

"It's not about being first, it's about being the best," Hackett told reporters and investors.

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Under the agreement, $1 billion of Volkswagen's total investment will be in direct funding. The German-carmaker will also contribute its own self-driving arm, which includes more than 200 employees and is valued at $1.6 billion.

Volkswagen intends to launch a vehicle with Argo's platform in "the early 2020s," according to CEO Herbert Diess.

Outside of autonomous technology, Ford will use Volkswagen's electric vehicle platform to launch a new zero-emission car in Europe in 2023, part of the company's $11.5 billion investment in electric vehicles. A second model is also under discussion, the companies said.

"Our global alliance is beginning to demonstrate even greater promise, and we are continuing to look at other areas on which we might collaborate,” said Diess.

Launched in January, the partnership between Ford and Volkswagen initially focused on commercial vans and pickups trucks. The firms "remain on track" on that endeavor and Ford expects to launch a medium-sized pickup for both companies as early as 2022.

Automotive manufacturers are increasingly partnering to advance work on self-driving cars, given the high cost of developing the technology and long runway to profitability. General Motors, for example, has partnered with Honda and Japan's SoftBank on its own self-driving effort.

The partnership with Ford and Volkswagen will allow the firms to "share significant [research and development] costs in the high triple-digit millions," Diess said.

Meanwhile, tech firms like Google and Apple that are also working on autonomous driving technology have substantially more available funds to invest in developing the products, putting more pressure on legacy automakers.

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Ford is in the midst of an $11 billion restructuring effort. The Dearborn, Michigan-based company recently said it would lay off 12,000 workers in Europe and revamp operations in the region as part of the overhaul.

“Ford will be a more targeted business in Europe, consistent with the company’s global redesign,” European president Stuart Rowley said in a June statement.

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