By Paul Lienert
DETROIT (Reuters) – An expanded alliance between Ford Motor Co <F.N> and Volkswagen AG <VOWG_p.DE> that includes a partnership in Ford self-driving unit Argo AI could redraw the balance of power in autonomous vehicles.
A Ford-VW collaboration with Argo, the Pittsburgh-based start-up that has spearheaded Ford’s self-driving development since 2017, could help reduce the engineering and financial burdens on each automaker. It could also accelerate the deployment timetables of both, which have said they plan to put autonomous vehicles into operation in 2021.
Argo has been overlooked as Waymo, Alphabet Inc’s <GOOGL.O> self-driving subsidiary, has deployed its robo-vans, and General Motors Co’s <GM.N> Cruise Automation subsidiary has raked in billions of dollars in investments.
With VW, the world’s biggest automaker by sales volume last year, Argo would be aligned with a partner with substantial scale and resources.
Ford and VW said on Thursday they are expanding their global alliance and that the two companies’ chief executives would hold a news conference in New York on Friday, where they are expected to announce details on a technology-sharing agreement.
A Ford-VW deal that involves Argo could also have broader implications for similar alliances, as well as valuations of related start-up companies.
Earlier estimates of Argo’s value have ranged from $2 billion (£1.6 billion) to $4 billion. Depending on the size of a VW investment, that valuation could rise to $7 billion, according to a source familiar with the Ford-VW discussions.
In comparison, the value of Cruise jumped to $19 billion earlier this year after it attracted more than $6 billion in investments from SoftBank Group <9984.T>, Honda Motor Co <7267.T> and T. Rowe Price <TROW.O>.
The value of ride services firm Uber Technologies’ <UBER.N> Advanced Technologies Group climbed to more than $7 billion earlier this year after SoftBank, Toyota Motor Corp <7203.T> and Denso Corp <6902.T> invested $1 billion.
Those valuations are dwarfed by the estimates for Waymo, which is widely acknowledged as the sector leader. Morgan Stanley values Waymo at up to $175 billion, while Jefferies values the company at up to $250 billion.
Both estimates take into account Waymo’s nascent robotaxi business and potential future revenue streams from a delivery service and from streamed in-vehicle services, including e-commerce and infotainment.
VW, whose Audi unit heads the German automaker’s Automated Intelligence Driving (AID) unit in Munich, reportedly considered a $13.7 billion investment last year in Waymo for a 10 percent stake that would have valued Waymo at $137 billion.
VW recently concluded a development agreement with Aurora, the Silicon Valley self-driving start-up that includes Hyundai Motor Co <005380.KS> and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles <FCHA.MI> among its customers. Fiat Chrysler also supplies vehicles to Waymo.
Aurora is valued at $2.5 billion. Investors include Hyundai and Amazon Inc <AMZN.O>.
Argo, which is majority-owned by the No. 2 U.S. automaker, is part of Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC. Ford set up the unit in 2018, pledging to invest $4 billion until 2023.
(Reporting by Paul Lienert in Detroit; Editing by Dan Grebler and Leslie Adler)