This didn't come as much of a surprise, given that Ford and Volkswagen have already agreed to work in other capacities with one another. Reports now suggest that Volkswagen will invest $2.6 billion in Ford's Argo unit, valuing the latter at $7 billion.
Keep in mind, Volkswagen has already invested in Argo, dumping $1.7 billion in and increasing its valuation from the $1 billion it garnered when Ford got its hands on it in 2017, to $4 billion earlier this year.
Ford's move with Argo is very similar to General Motors' (GM) - Get Report move with Cruise. GM snapped up Cruise for a reported $1 billion in August 2016 and has since seen its valuation swell to $19 billion. That came after another investment round just a few months ago, with Cruise now counting SoftBank (SFTBY) and Honda Motors (HMC) - Get Report as two of its investors.
The odd thing is, even though GM scooped up an asset for $1 billion and watched its valuation climb to $19 billion in less than three years, the automaker's market cap hasn't been rewarded in a similar manner.
I don't expect Ford to be rewarded much either, despite its asset's value climbing notably in the two years that it's owned it. But it does draw some comparisons to where each group is in the autonomous driving race.
For now, Tesla (TSLA) - Get Report has nothing to worry about given its current state of autonomous-driving technology, but as the competition grows, it may wish it had the same financial backing as some of these collaborations.
Ford vs. GM vs. Waymo
Waymo is already running an autonomous taxi service near Phoenix, and has even begun to partner with Lyft (LYFT) - Get Report . Cruise has long been considered a viable No. 2 competitor, although its lack of a service thus far brings up more questions than answers.
That goes for the entire industry as well.
The assumption is that within a few years, most automakers around the world will have level 3 driving capabilities. But because of the cost associated with autonomous driving solutions, we've seen a bevy of partnerships and collaborations form.
Ford and Volkswagen is the latest example, but it's not the first. Honda investing into GM's Cruise is one, while Daimler (DDAIF) has begun working with BMW. While not an automaker, Nvidia (NVDA) - Get Report has partnered with a number of companies to make self-driving vehicles a reality.
Assuming Ford and Volkswagen are partnering simply to leverage each other's strengths toward autonomous driving for consumer-vehicle purposes, it should help the two keep pace with the industry. At least, it should help more than if they were to stay separate. Despite the tie-up, though, many will likely view the technology to be lagging Cruise for now, and most will view both as laggards to Waymo.
Where Do Uber and Tesla Fit In?
One big concern for Tesla (TSLA) - Get Report down the road may be where it will stack up in the autonomous driving race. Tesla has arguably deployed the largest network of vehicles with self-driving features thus far. At least in terms of how far the automaker pushes these features vs. the more conservative rollout of other automakers.
However, the established automakers already have a stronger financial standing than Tesla, and now they're partnering up. If they begin to aggressively advance their autonomous driving technology, Tesla could find itself in a tough spot.
The ride-hailing company needs to make autonomous driving a reality for its bottom line to improve. At least getting the technology into some of its key markets would make a world of difference for Uber. Developing this technology on its own hasn't gone over too well thus far, and it would make sense for the company to consider a partnership.
Waymo and Lyft are working together -- albeit in a very limited manner -- but it draws questions of whether Uber would consider some form of partnership, collaboration or investment in GM's Cruise or Ford's Argo unit.
That could create a
win-win for Uber and the other party. Given Uber's large network of users, a successful and safe self-driving vehicle provider could instantly leverage a large pool of customers, taking the fight more aggressively to Waymo.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author had no positions in the stocks mentioned.