It's a welcome relief for shareholders, even as shares of Ford are down 20% so far in 2018. It's relief that comes from a rallying stock price (up 16% from its recent lows) and a high-yield dividend (still near 6.5%) that wasn't reduced by management.
During this decline, one of Ford's biggest problems has been revealing its future plans to shareholders. While seemingly every other automaker advances toward the future, Ford appears stuck in neutral.
This comes at a time when Tesla (TSLA) - Get Tesla Inc Report has gone from a troubled startup to the premier producer of electric vehicles. This while German luxury automakers like Audi, Porsche, BMW and Mercedes are rolling out portfolios of electric vehicles (EVs) and working on autonomous driving solutions.
It also comes at a time when Alphabet's (GOOGL) - Get Alphabet Inc. Class A Report (GOOG) - Get Alphabet Inc. Class C Report Waymo is leading the Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) autonomous driving race and after General Motors (GM) - Get General Motors Company (GM) Report purchased Cruised Automation for $1 billion two years ago. The entity's value has swelled to more than $14.5 billion following investments from SoftBank and Honda Motor (HMC) - Get Honda Motor Co., Ltd. Sponsored ADR Report , while Ford's bet on Argo seems to be stagnating.
That's why so many observers and investors have been downbeat on Ford. It doesn't help that Chinese auto sales are the worst they've been in years and as trade wars squeeze U.S. automakers' margins.
But Ford's looking to change that perception; the perception that it's the struggling tortoise in a race full of hares.
That's why it's reportedly teaming up with Baidu (BIDU) - Get Baidu, Inc. Sponsored ADR Class A Report in China for autonomous driving functions, and with Volkswagen (VLKAY) -- owner of brands like Audi and Porsche -- for electrification and autonomous driving efforts. The hope is that, not only will this save the company F-150 loads of money, but will also help Ford catch up in the technological arms race of the automotive industry.
The focus is going from horsepower and 0-60 times to questions like, "how many miles per charge can I get?" and "can my car park itself?"
Let's take the Volkswagen news first, as it and Ford are reportedly close to a big-time cooperation pact. Tesla bucked naysayers' worries over driving range when it launched the massive Supercharger network, allowing drivers to charge all over the country, and the world for that matter. Could Ford and Volkswagen be working on a similar setup? Other reports have cited a collaboration on commercial trucking solutions. So we'll see what these two have up their sleeves, but it could go a long way in helping Ford's future of mobility efforts.
The news with Baidu is more straightforward. Baidu seen as the "Google of China," not just because of its industry-leading search engine but also because of its autonomous driving efforts. What Google calls Waymo, Baidu calls Apollo and it's an autonomous driving platform to take seriously.
Over the summer, Ford and Baidu said they would explore ways the two could cooperate in regards to mobility and autonomy. That plan is maturing, though, as the two have announced a two-year collaboration to develop and test driverless cars.
The two plan to start testing Ford vehicles retrofitted with Baidu's autonomous software and begin on-road testing in China by the end of 2018. So far, we're not aware of what type of financial or partnership deal the two are tied together in, only that they're working together.
Still, these are some significant partnerships to hit the wires for Ford, a company that, to many, was floundering in its quest to step into the future of auto with the rest of the industry.
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This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author had no positions in the stocks mentioned.