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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 August 2019

Car partnerships here to stay following Volkswagen-Ford alliance

The expanding alliance between the world’s No 1 and America’s No 2 car companies is the latest example of the auto industry's transformation
BMW chief executive Harald Krueger, left, with Daimler chief executive Dieter Zetsche. The firms aim to take on the likes of Uber and Lyft. Bloomberg

A long history of failed automotive mergers and tie-ups -- from Daimler-Chrysler to GM-Fiat and BMW-Rover -- used to be reason to doubt that combinations or partnerships between big carmakers were a good idea.

But as the world’s biggest manufacturers anticipate an age of increasingly electric, autonomous and shared vehicles, they’re increasingly becoming bedfellows.

Volkswagen and Ford Motor have scheduled a press conference in New York on Friday after months of talks about joining forces to develop self-driving and electric vehicles. Aligning with one another in the burgeoning fields would build on an existing partnership to work together on commercial vans and trucks.

The expanding alliance between the world’s No 1 and America’s No 2 car companies is only the latest example of the auto industry giants joining forces to cope with the transformation sweeping their industry. The transition is going to be costly: Since 2010, more than $14 billion has been invested in autonomy and mobility technologies, according to BloombergNEF.

“BMW and Daimler are pairing up and matching up on their autonomous-vehicle programme, as are Toyota and Uber, and you’ve seen GM and Honda, and now VW and Ford,” said Mike Ramsey, an automotive consultant at Gartner. “That leaves Hyundai and Kia hunting around desperately for partners. And then the remainder, like FCA and PSA.”

Here’s a rundown of some of the most noteworthy tie-ups of the last few years among the world’s leading automakers:

BMW and Daimler vowed earlier this month to team up on developing cars capable of traversing highways without human intervention starting in 2024. While drivers will remain behind the wheel, the companies said their vehicles will be able to navigate highways and park on their own.

The luxury-auto arch rivals also agreed to pour more than €1bn ($1.1bn) into the car-sharing and ride-hailing businesses they combined to form one joint venture earlier this year to compete with the likes of Uber Technologies and Lyft.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles -- already an Italian-American amalgam -- pursued a merger with Renault earlier this year, though the potential deal abruptly collapsed last month due to the French state’s intervention and concern about the implications for Renault’s existing alliance with Nissan Motor and Mitsubishi Motors Corporation.

Still, it may be too soon to write off the idea. Renault and French finance minister Bruno Le Maire have said talks with Fiat Chrysler could resume once the Renault-Nissan alliance is on firmer footing. Fiat Chrysler chairman John Elkann told Italian newspaper La Stampa this week called the attempt to merge with Renault an “act of courage.”

Nearly two years before Fiat Chrysler’s merger proposal with Renault, the company entered a coalition led by BMW that’s creating an autonomous-vehicle platform slated to be launched in 2021. Other members of the collaboration include Intel, Aptiv, Continental and Magna International.

And that’s not all for BMW. Jaguar Land Rover announced in June it will team up with the German automaker to work on its fifth generation of electric-drive technology, which is set to roll out next year with an electric X3 crossover.

Daimler decided earlier this year to transform Smart, its struggling small-car division, into an all-electric brand rooted in China with the help of its largest shareholder, Zhejiang Geely Holding Group.

The two groups also agreed last October to enter China’s ride-hailing and car-sharing business by forming a 50-50 venture. They plan to leverage models including the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and E-Class and the ultra-luxury brand Maybach to battle market leader Didi Chuxing.

Even Honda Motor Company has pivoted from the go-it-alone approach that it stuck to for decades. The Japanese automaker joined an existing venture between Toyota Motor Corporation and SoftBank Group earlier this year.

Last fall, Honda committed to investing $2.75bn in General Motors' Cruise self-driving unit. The two already were working together on electric-vehicle batteries and hydrogen fuel cell systems.

Toyota, whose battery-powered RAV4 partnership with Tesla ended up being a short-lived clash of polar-opposite business cultures, entered another electric-vehicle alliance in 2017 with Mazda Motor Corp.

Months after announcing the Mazda pact, Toyota added Suzuki Motor to the mix, with the two saying they plan to bring electric vehicles to China and India beginning in 2020. And in June, Toyota added Subaru to its stable of EV partners.

Updated: July 12, 2019 05:32 PM