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: Argo AI shuts down as Ford, VW pull backing from autonomous-vehicle startup that raised more than $3 billion

Argo AI, an autonomous vehicle startup, is shutting down as its two big backers, Ford Motor Corp. and Volkswagen AG, indicated that the company’s technology is taking too long to commercialize.

Argo AI confirmed to MarketWatch that some of its 2,000 employees will get a chance to continue to work on AV technology with either Ford
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or VW
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TechCrunch first reported Wednesday that the company would shut down.

“We are incredibly grateful for the dedication of the Argo AI team, and so proud of our achievements together,” Argo AI Chief Executive Bryan Salesky and President Peter Rander said in a statement. “The team consistently delivered above and beyond, and we expect to see success for everyone in whatever comes next.”

The news comes as the commercialization of autonomous vehicles has lagged. Bloomberg Businessweek recently published a story titled “Even After $100 Billion, Self-Driving Cars Are Going Nowhere,” and Mobileye Global Inc.
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Chief Communications Officer Dan Galves told MarketWatch on Wednesday — as his automated-driving company’s stock rose more than 30% in its first day of trading after an initial public offering — that “investors don’t want to talk about [autonomous vehicles] right now.”

For more: Five things to know about the Mobileye IPO as Intel returns the automated-driving company to Wall Street

Salesky and Rander founded Pittsburgh-based Argo AI in 2013. It had brought in $3.6 billion in funding, according to Crunchbase. That included $1 billion over five years from Ford, which was announced in 2017, and $2.6 billion from VW, which was announced in 2020.

On Wednesday, VW said in a news release that it is consolidating its partnerships in autonomous driving as a service and would no longer be investing in Argo AI. Instead, the auto maker said it would be expanding its cooperation “to develop technology for its autonomous driving mobility fleets with a partner” that it said it would name later.

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

Ford, which released its third-quarter financial results Wednesday, said in a news release that it found that the commercialization of Level 4 autonomous-vehicle technology that Argo AI was developing “will be further out than originally anticipated.” The Society of Automotive Engineers defines six levels of driving automation, which ranges from 0 (fully manual) to 5 (fully autonomous). Level 4 is highly autonomous.

So Ford said it decided to shift spending to its own Levels 2 and 3 AV technology it is developing in-house. Ford, which also mentioned that Argo AI had been unable to attract new investors, said it recorded a $2.7 billion impairment charge on its investment in the company while reporting quarterly earnings Wednesday afternoon.

For more: Ford takes big charge as autonomous startup Argo AI shuts down, earnings head for low end of guidance

Meanwhile, ride-hailing giant Lyft Inc.
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had a 2.5% stake in Argo AI under an agreement, announced last year, to test autonomous ride-hailing.

A Lyft spokesman said Wednesday that “Argo AI has been a great partner and we’ve learned a lot from each other. This development does not impact Lyft’s autonomous strategy.” He said Lyft will continue working with Motional, with which it has been testing autonomous rides since 2018. Last year, the two companies announced that they plan to launch a fully driverless ride-hailing service in Las Vegas next year.

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