Weekly Brief: Ford follows GM’s lead in fishing for investors

GM got rich when it spun off its self-driving unit now Ford wants to do the same. Andrew Tolve comments.

Ford seems to be playing follow-my-leader to General Motors when it announced last week that it has created a new independent self-driving unit called Ford Autonomous Vehicles. The carmaker plans to invest a fresh $4Bn of its own capital over the coming five years into the endeavor, which will encompass all aspects of its self-driving business operations as they exist today and will attempt to accelerate its AV business to capitalize on emerging market opportunities moving forward. The new LLC is structured to take on third party investment and will be primarily based at Ford’s Corktown campus in Detroit. It will hold Ford’s ownership stake in Argo AI, the company’s Pittsburgh-based partner for self-driving system development.

GM did the same thing in May when it hived off its existing self-driving operations into the independent Cruise Automation. It then pumped in an addition $1.1Bn of its own money and drew a $2.25Bn investment from Japan’s SoftBank Group, money that it plans to use to commercialize Cruise by 2019. In the meantime, GM’s shares soared 13 percent the day of the SoftBank announcement. Ford wouldn’t divulge if it’s in conversations with SoftBank as well, although it’s conceivable given the bank’s broad interest in the AV and ride-sharing space.

In other news, Waymo is building up to its commercial debut in late 2018 with smaller pilots this summer, starting with a Walmart door-to-door shuttle service in Phoenix. Shoppers who order groceries on Walmart.com will have the option of ordering a Waymo and getting ferried to a physical Walmart, where their groceries will await them, all bagged up and discounted to boot. Waymo is offering the same deal for people who want to eat out at Phoenix dining establishments like the Ahwatukee Foothills Towne Center or The Element Hotel.

Usage-based insurance start-up Metromile raised $90M in Series E funding co-led by insurance companies Tokio Marine Holdings and Intact Financial. Section 32, the venture capital firm founded by former Google Ventures CEO Bill Maris, also participated. Metromile plans to use the funds to expand pay-per-mile insurance and simplify the insurance experience through the use of artificial intelligence in claims processing.

Daimler is harnessing Big Data to strengthen its “Mercedes me” app and associated services. The carmaker has partnered with Solace to stream information between their vehicles and back-end applications. The Solace tech will allow Daimler to collect information from tens of millions of vehicles and send vehicle-specific alerts and instructions to specific cars or groups of vehicles.

Suzuki launched an advanced telematics solution called Suzuki Connect in India. Suzuki Connect will offer features like emergency alerts, vehicle tracking, driving behavior analysis, car assistance and driving analytics reports. The optional service will be powered by a dealer-installed piece of hardware and a smartphone app.

Finally, electric vehicle start-up Faraday Future will join the Mobility Open Blockchain Initiative (MOBI) as the lead EV partner. Faraday Future says that it hopes to help foster a digital environment where users, both businesses and consumers, may securely record driving data, manage rideshare and car-share transactions, and store vehicle identity and usage information. The consortium includes ZF, Ford, BMW, Denso and Renault, among others.
The Weekly Brief is a round-up of the week’s top telematics news, combining TU-Automotive analysis with information from industry sources.

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