Ford, Volkswagen pull the plug on joint robocar project

Ford, Volkswagen pull the plug on joint robocar project

Business news |
By Christoph Hammerschmidt

The software company Argo AI got off to a flying start: With Ford and Volkswagen as investors, the Pittsburgh (PA) based company wanted to build a robotic taxi. Now the two investors are pulling out, and Volkswagen is reorganising its activities in the field of autonomous driving.

According to a press release, VW wants to “refocus” its development activities in autonomous and highly automated driving. In doing so, the carmaker want to work primarily with Bosch and the Chinese technology company Horizon Robotics. There had been no word from Ford on the subject by the time this article appeared, though the German magazine Der Spiegel reported that the US company was pulling out of Argo AI, accumulating several billion US dollars in losses.

“Especially in the development of future technologies, focus and speed count. Our goal is to offer our customers the most powerful functions at the earliest possible time and to set up our development as cost-efficiently as possible,” said Oliver Blume, the new CEO of Volkswagen and long-time boss of Porsche.

According to the Volkswagen press release, the development of autonomous driving is a core component of Volkswagen’s NEW AUTO strategy. Within the VW Group, the Volkswagen Nutzfahrzeuge (Commercial Vehicles) division would be responsible for implementing this development specifically for the Mobility and Transportation as a Service (MaaS / TaaS) sectors – a clear indication that autonomous driving will first see the light of day (not only) at VW in the truck sector rather than in the passenger car sector. VW’s software subsidiary Cariad is responsible for the development of partially and highly automated driving functions (up to SAE Level 4) for the group’s passenger car brands. Together with development partners, Cariad and VW Nutzfahrzeuge are to drive forward the development of autonomous driving technologies.

Volkswagen Nutzfahrzeuge (VWN) is further expanding its cooperation to develop technology for its autonomous driving mobility fleets with a partner. This will be announced shortly. Suitably equipped ID. Buzz prototypes are already on the road with this partner in the test programme.

Volkswagen Nutzfahrzeuge’ goal for autonomous driving remains unchanged, the carmaker emphasises: customers should be able to book the autonomously driving ID. Buzz in Hamburg in 2025.

The aim is to provide functions for vehicles of the Volkswagen Group’s brand groups that allow drivers to explicitly take their hands off the steering wheel at times. These are Level 2 ADAS systems in which the driver is supported by the vehicle; areas of application are city, country and motorway, in which the driver is comprehensively supported by the vehicle. For this purpose, a system is to be developed in which the vehicle takes over the complete driving task on motorways (SAE level 3). The first functions are to be implemented in 2023.

For the Chinese market, Cariad is also planning to cooperate with Horizon Robotics in order to advance the development of automated driving on a regional basis in what is now the world’s largest car market. In the hardware sector, the group has also entered into a partnership with Qualcomm for high-performance chips for automated driving.

And what will become of Argo AI? That remains unclear. In its press release, Volkswagen states that it is working with Argo AI to enable employees to continue working and to further develop the most promising projects in the field of autonomous driving. Whatever that may mean.

All other collaborations with Ford remain unchanged, Volkswagen emphasizes.

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