Ford Motor Co. is investing $1 billion in a months-old startup founded by two pioneers in the nascent autonomous vehicle sector.
The Pittsburgh-based artificial intelligence company Argo AI will develop the brains — specifically, a virtual driver system — for the fully autonomous vehicles Ford has promised to bring to market in 2021. Founders Bryan Salesky and Peter Rander are former leaders of the self-driving car teams at Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Uber Technologies Inc.
“This is a unique partnership,” Mark Fields, Ford’s chief executive officer, said in an interview. “A lot of tech companies are looking for customers and a lot of OEMs are looking for technology partners. We are getting expertise, and Argo AI is getting a customer in Ford.”
Ford’s investment, planned for over the next five years, reflects how hot the race for autonomous vehicles is within an industry facing other seismic shifts including electrification and ride-sharing. Self-driving vehicle startups are emerging at a frenetic pace after General Motors Co. and Uber valued upstarts — each with just a few dozen employees — as worth hundreds of millions of dollars in separate acquisitions last year.
Salesky, who worked on the self-driving car project at Google, and Rander, who held a similar role at Uber, have no other backers. Argo AI will function as a subsidiary of Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford, though the startup will be independent and offer equity to engineers, said Raj Nair, Ford’s executive vice president of global product development and its chief technical officer.