The VW-Ford Partnership Is Going Autonomous

Illustration for article titled The VW-Ford Partnership Is Going Autonomous
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Ford and Volkswagen are ready to become partners in autonomy, GM is funneling more money into trucks, and, yes, there’s a hell of a lot more Renault-Nissan drama to catch up on. All this and more in The Morning Shift for Wednesday, June 12, 2019.


1st: Ford and VW Ready to Seal the Autonomy Deal

Expect an autonomous VW-Ford partnership as soon as July, sources report in Automotive News. The two automakers have been courting each other for a while as they explore the benefits of a joint effort to deeply expand their research into autonomy after their partnership earlier this year regarding the production of commercial vehicles. It’s just that now things seem to be moving faster than you might’ve expected.

If you’ve been keeping up with your autonomy partnerships news, you’ll know that VW had previously been paired with Aurora Innovation before that partnership fell through—VW cut ties with Aurora on Tuesday after the startup announced their partnership with the FCA. This deal will be particularly sweet for VW, as Ford has already inked a deal with autonomy company Argo AI.

More from AutoNews:

Volkswagen and Ford, which agreed to co-produce vans and pickups earlier this year, have been discussing an investment in Argo AI, the Ford-backed autonomous vehicle startup, people familiar with the talks have said. The automakers discussed an approximate valuation for Argo of $4 billion, one of the people said.


Most of the thorniest issues have been resolved and the two companies envision a comprehensive collaboration creating a global colossus in the self-driving space, the people said.

The partnership would rival Alphabet’s Waymo and General Motors’ Cruise unit in ambition and scope, according to one of the people, who asked not to be identified revealing internal discussions.


“We fit together geographically really well, product line-wise, we fit together well,” Ford, the great-grandson of founder Henry Ford, said at a conference in Houston in March. “We both came to the same realization that as big as our balance sheets are, no company can do this alone.”

The partnership sounds promising for as quickly as it seems to have come together. There’s currently no word on how soon we can expect to see an actual vehicle.

2nd: GM Is Here for the Trucks

Trucks are almost entirely American automakers’ bread and butter these days—the truck market just keeps on growing even when the demand for vehicles overall has become pretty tenuous. And that’s why GM is reportedly investing $150m into truck production, AutoNews reports.


More from the article:

General Motors is expected to announce on Wednesday it is investing about $150 million at its Flint assembly plant in Michigan to boost production of heavy duty trucks, sources briefed on the matter said.

The automaker announced in February it was adding 1,000 jobs to build a new generation of heavy-duty pickup trucks. The company confirmed its president, Mark Reuss, will make an announcement at the plant Wednesday, but declined to comment further.


We’ll keep you updated as more official details are confirmed—but it sounds like, for now, you can keep expecting trucks to reign over the roads.

3rd: Your Daily Nissan Update

Is it really a weekday if there isn’t anything about Nissan in the news? We updated you yesterday on how the Renault-Nissan alliance has managed to degenerate even further, basically boiling down to the fact that the two companies have been intertwined for so long that everyone thinks they’re the ones without any power. Now, we’re seeing the backlash from investors and shareholders.


Here’s an update on Nissan’s side from AutoNews:

Two leading proxy advisory firms have urged Nissan Motor Co. shareholders to vote against the reappointment of CEO Hiroto Saikawa, heaping more pressure on embattled executive as he struggles to find accord with alliance partner Renault.

The move marks a rare public rebuke by international proxy firms against the leader of a top-tier Japanese company, and comes just as the scandal-hit automaker struggles to move on from the legacy of Carlos Ghosn, its ousted chairman who stands accused of financial misconduct.

It also underscores the precarious position of Saikawa, 65, who was groomed for leadership by Ghosn but appears unable to mend a relationship with Renault that one source said appeared to be in jeopardy.

Institutional Shareholder Services recommended shareholders vote against Saikawa as director at Nissan’s annual general meeting on June 25, to ensure a “clean break” from the Ghosn era.


The firm also advised shareholders to vote against the nomination of Moto Nagai to Nissan’s board, saying the former executive of Mizuho Financial Group served as an independent auditor at Nissan during Ghosn’s tenure, and “shares responsibility” for failing to exercise oversight of Ghosn’s alleged wrongdoing.


And here’s what’s going on on Renault’s side, from AutoNews Europe:

On Wednesday, Renault shareholders will gather in the same cavernous hall in the French capital and again consider the company’s relationship with Nissan. But the circumstances have changed radically. Ghosn is gone, arrested in Tokyo and charged with financial crimes, and the alliance he nurtured is under unprecedented strain.

When Renault’s new chairman, Jean-Dominique Senard, takes the stage, he’ll be pressed to explain whether the world’s biggest auto-making alliance can survive at all, especially after the French company’s failed effort to combine with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV pushed the partners further apart.

“Senard is in a tricky situation,” said Denis Branche of Paris-based Phitrust, a Renault shareholder that opposed the deal with Fiat Chrysler Autobomiles. “He made Renault’s governance healthier, but there is still work to do. And the issue of the governance of the Renault-Nissan alliance remains.”

An open struggle has broken out between the French and Japanese carmakers, and Senard’s past public gestures of goodwill toward Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa changed into finger-pointing. The two sides are sparring over governance changes at Nissan, an apparent tit-for-tat after it refused to support the FCA deal.


Basically, nobody is particularly happy with the way the whole Renault-Nissan thing turned out. There’s a big ol’ blame game going on, and it’s all centered around the lingering figures from the Ghosn era.

4th: Musk Wants Yet More Factories in China

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla notorious for making plans that way exceed Tesla’s current capacity to deliver, is back at it again. And he’s dreaming of expanding Tesla’s influence in China by creating not one but two or more factories in the country.


Tesla is currently working on finishing the construction of its first plant over in China. But that doesn’t mean Musk isn’t dreaming up a very elaborate future. From Bloomberg:

“China is pretty big geographically, so it may make sense to have factories in other parts of China in order to reduce logistics costs,” Musk told investors at Tesla’s annual shareholder meeting in Mountain View, California, on Tuesday. “The faster you scale, the more cash you have.”

China is Tesla’s second-largest market after the U.S., and the company is constructing a gigafactory in Shanghai that will produce batteries as well as cars for the local market as soon as this year. Musk said Tesla’s announced goal to achieve annual production of 500,000 vehicles a year at the plant is an “interim” target, and longer term, capacity could top 1 million vehicles. He didn’t give a timeframe.


Still, Musk indicated any further expansion in China wouldn’t be imminent.

“We can’t spend money too fast, you know, we’ll run out of it,” he said.

Musk isn’t wrong—being able to produce cars in one of the manufacturer’s biggest markets would be huge in terms of reducing costs across the board. But Tesla is a company that isn’t exactly lacking ideas for improvement. More ideas are not what it needs; finishing what it has started is its issue.


At least Musk honest about knowing the money for the project isn’t quite growing on trees.

5th: Ford Opens Research Center in Israel

Israel is the new Silicon Valley, or at least that’s Ford wants you to think at the moment. It has opened a research center in Israel to take advantage of the growing mobility industry, Automotive News reports.


More from the article:

Investors have poured roughly $6 billion into Israeli smart mobility startups since 2013, according to EcoMotion, a nonprofit organization that hosts a yearly mobility conference in Tel Aviv.

“We recognize the importance of being in one of the world’s leading innovation communities and ecosystems,” Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford said in a statement. “This new center is not only an expansion of our existing Research and Innovation centers but provides an opportunity to join a growing innovation community in Israel.”

“This really becomes the lifeblood of what Ford Motor Co. will be in the future,” Ford said at the ribbon cutting ceremony

He told Automotive News the site would start small, with roughly 10 to 12 workers, but likely would grow quickly, similar to Ford’s research center in Palo Alto, Calif., which opened in 2015 with a small staff that has grown to about 250 today.

He said the site’s researchers would work with those in Palo Alto and Dearborn, Mich., to explore future technologies, and would work closely with SAIPS, an Israeli computer vision company Ford acquired in 2016.


Ford will be using their new facilities to research “interior monitoring, sensors, OTA updates, cybersecurity and autonomous technology.”

Reverse: The First-Ever Bicycle Ride

On this day in 1817, (slightly more than 200 years ago, despite what the old link says below) German inventor Baron Karl von Drais revealed to the public his wild new invention: the two-wheeled “dandyhorse.”


Neutral: What Do You Want out of an Autonomous World?

Autonomy seems like it’s coming whether you like it or not, but it’s still in the beginning stages where we can still dream big about what we’d want out of it. Me, personally, I’m hoping we’ll still have some non-autonomous roads so we can actually have fun driving.

Weekends at Jalopnik. Managing editor at A Girl's Guide to Cars. Lead IndyCar writer and assistant editor at Frontstretch. Novelist. Motorsport fanatic.


Ash78, voting early and often

50 years from now, the perfect world of autonomy would be this:

1. Local/residential/backroad driving is still in the hands of drivers, with some autonomous enhancement (Level 1-2) for things like emergency braking. These technologies mostly exist today.

2. Highways and interstates will be improved and more restricted to access, but will allow short periods of Level 4+ autonomy in order to have cars maintain shorter following distances and reduce “compression waves” during periods of high traffic.

Anyone with an “old-fashioned” car on a modern highway will still be allowed to drive, but with restrictions — for example, a lower speed limit or lane limitations. Basically the opposite of an HOV/EV lane today.

I’d love to maintain cars in the hands of human beings, but eliminate the drudgery that sucks all the joy out of driving.