Ford posts Q3 loss as self-driving vehicle startup it backed shutters

Ford Motor Co. posted an $827 million loss in the third quarter, dragged down by costs associated with the shutdown of a self-driving vehicle technology company the Blue Oval backed as a major investor.

In confirming the decision to shut down Pennsylvania-based Argo AI, founded by two Michigan natives in 2017 with a $1 billion investment from the Dearborn automaker, Ford executives acknowledged the challenges of developing Level 4 fully self-driving advanced driver assistance systems with human observations — and said doing so is likely to take at least five more years and would have required billions of dollars more in investment in Argo.

The automaker initially said it expected to bring Level 4 ADAS technology to market by 2021. “But things have changed, and there’s a huge opportunity right now for Ford to give time — the most valuable commodity in modern life — back to millions of customers while they’re in their vehicles,” CEO Jim Farley said in a statement. “It’s mission-critical for Ford to develop great and differentiated L2+ and L3 applications that at the same time make transportation even safer.”

“We’re optimistic about a future for L4 ADAS,” he added, “but profitable, fully autonomous vehicles at scale are a long way off, and we won’t necessarily have to create that technology ourselves.”

The effective dissolution of Argo amid stiffening economic conditions and the global auto industry’s pivot to electrification signal how unpredictable the advance of next-generation technology is proving to be — and how sure things less than five years ago are proving less so as automakers focus more intently on delivering partial self-driving solutions to customers.

Doug Field, a former Apple Inc. and Tesla Inc. engineer who now heads up advanced technology and embedded systems at Ford, said the work Argo was doing was “what I consider to be the hardest technical problem of our time. It’s harder than putting a man on the moon to create an L4 robotaxi that can operate in a dense urban environment, safely, and navigate to its destination.”

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