Artist's View of a VW Transit Transit Truck.

Enlarge / Artist's View of a VW Transit Transit Truck.

Aurich / Ford

We have seen some great news days for two of the world's largest automakers. On Monday, Ford took advantage of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit to announce the Shelby GT500, an uber-Mustang, as well as new Explorer crossovers. On the same day, Volkswagen, one of the few German brands to be present in Detroit this year, unveiled the latest Passat sedan and an investment of $ 800 million in its Chattanooga, Tennessee facility. The US plant will become VW's North American base for electric vehicle manufacturing, creating 1,000 new jobs and producing electric vehicles using the new SEM architecture starting in 2022.
One would think that one or the other of the companies would relax at this point; After all, both countries have come up with pretty strong plans to sell a lot of vehicles into the US market. But throughout the day of yesterday, Twitter on the automobile (yes, that 's one thing) was a buzz with news of something else, a conference of joint press between the two rivals. Tuesday morning we got our answer: a global alliance between Ford and Volkswagen, each bringing one of his strengths in a field where the other has weaknesses.
This is not a merger and no action is a matter of exchange between companies. But that will involve a lot of collaboration. The first standing? New commercial vans and medium-sized vans for the global market (read non-US). And these are medium-sized markets, so we're talking about Ranger-sized monsters and not F-250s. Ford will build vans that will be customized by both manufacturers from 2022. It will also develop a replacement vehicle for the Transit van, VW taking over the construction of a new city van in 2023.

These products made the most sense, not only because of the relative strengths and weaknesses they represent in the Ford and VW product portfolios, but also because of the timing. Both manufacturers are perfectly aligned in terms of product cycles for these vehicles, each having to start working on their respective generations.

Electrification is obvious

While utility vehicles are the first fruits of this alliance, Ford President and CEO Jim Hackett and VW Group President Herbert Diess have explained that they are actively looking for others. areas conducive to this type of collaboration. Electrification is the most obvious. VW has invested billions of dollars in its new SEM architecture for series electric vehicles (for more information, I highly recommend this deep dive by David Tracy of Jalopnik); Ford, on the other hand, lags far behind in the construction of battery electric vehicles.

"No other equipment supplier has a more robust approach to electromobility than VW, and we are ready to share this advantage," Diess said at the press conference.

However, when asked if it meant that VW was licensing MEB to Ford, Diess's answer left me somewhat puzzled. "We are engaged in a constructive open dialogue to exploit the technology – probably not around the world, but they are viable for Europe and China," he said.

It is quite possible that the remark on China and Europe specifically concerns the new pick-up, this remark having been taken up by Diess in response to a different question. This is something we will seek to clarify with both manufacturers in the near future.

Ford boss Hackett also warned against widespread use of electric vehicles. In response to another question, he told the audience that "we still have to prove to the world that they will opt for these vehicles," which will be much easier to do if and when the industry begins to create attractive and affordable BEVs. On the scale.

Autonomous technology too?

Autonomous vehicles represent another possible area of ​​collaboration among allies, although much less information was forthcoming. This is partly due to the long road traveled from here to full autonomy – which Hackett evoked by highlighting the lack of autonomous vehicles on sale at NAIAS. But it is also unclear to what extent collaboration would be useful in this area. Each manufacturer is already actively working with the startups of the Autonomous Driving Platform – Ford working with Argo AI, VW Group with Aurora.
In interviews with industry representatives, I was told over and over again that in this type of relationship, the OEM is primarily responsible for system integration and then aligning the user experience. on the values ​​of the brand. and a standalone VW feels like a VW. Again, there are many other aspects of an autonomous system mobility solution other than the sensors and the stack of software. Ford has a lot of experience with his Smart mobility experiments, and VW builds the Brand Moia for sharing vehicles and other types of new transport ideas.