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The automotive giant has entered the fray with a $1 billion purchase of a majority stake in Argo, a Pittsburgh-based artificial intelligence startup founded by former top engineers from the self-driving vehicle divisions of Alphabet and Uber, Recode’s Johana Bhuiyan reported on Friday:
This is the largest investment a traditional auto manufacturer has made in self-driving technology. General Motors acquired self-driving startup Cruise for $1 billion last year, and Uber bought autonomous trucking company Otto for $680 million, also last year. Ford will dole out the $1 billion over a five year schedule but will immediately become the majority shareholder. The company declined to disclose its specific stake, but the investment would value Argo at over $1 billion.
Ford says Argo will remain headquartered in Pittsburgh and operate with substantial independence. Both Ford and Argo elect two board seats, with a fifth independent position. Ford plans to install Raj Nair, head of research and development, and Vice President John Casea to the board.
Ford’s AI buy follows on similar moves last year by General Motors, as a talent war shapes up between Silicon Valley and Detroit for the scarce, precious resource that is AI talent. This race between the legacy auto manufacturers, tech giants like Google, and upstarts like Uber and Tesla to develop self-driving cars and beyond is part of manufacturing’s high-tech evolution. Factories, like all of us, are digital employers now.
Wednesday was a bad day for Japanese automotive companies. Suzuki Motor Corp admitted that it had used non-compliant methods to test its vehicles’ fuel economy, as the president of Mitsubishi announced his resignation over a cheating scandal that came to light last month, Reuters reports:
Japan’s transport ministry ordered widespread checks to industry methods after Mitsubishi Motors admitted last month it manipulated fuel economy data for at least four mini-vehicle models, overstating their efficiency. Mitsubishi Motors’ president, Tetsuro Aikawa, said on Wednesday he would step down over that scandal, becoming the first senior departure since it broke, battering the company’s reputation and wiping billions off its market value. …
Suzuki said it would continue selling its mini-cars and saw no impact on its earnings. The correct readings, it said, were not significantly different to those it submitted. Japanese authorities, however, have asked for further details from Suzuki before May 31, calling its use of non-compliant tests “outrageous”.
Reminiscent of the similar scandal that rocked Volkswagen last year, Mitsubishi’s explanation for how it came to cheat on fuel economy tests pointed to problems with its company culture that made management less likely to put a stop to unethical practices:
Michael Horn, the president and CEO of Volkswagen’s US operations, abruptly resigned on Wednesday after two years in the post, the New York Times‘ Jad Mouawad reports. Hinrich J. Woebcken, recently appointed head of the North American region and chairman of Volkswagen Group of America, will take his place. Horn’s departure, on which the auto maker did not comment except to say that it was decided by “mutual agreement,” comes after months-long series of resignations and reorganizations in the wake of an emissions cheating scandal that has already cost the company billions.
The Times report notes that Horn had played a key role in managing Volkswagen’s relations with its American dealerships amid declining sales and increasing frustration with the company’s leadership in Germany. As Mouawad describes, his absence is already making dealers nervous: