Volkswagen wanted a marriage. Aurora Innovation isn't looking to settle down.
That dynamic contributed to the companies' decision to end a partnership that explored the development of self-driving systems for vehicles, a split announced by the automaker last week.
For Aurora, the self-driving tech startup co-founded by veterans of Google, Tesla and Uber, the conclusion of that relationship was merely one milepost in a topsy-turvy week that included the start of a fresh partnership with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and funding from Hyundai Motor Group.
For Volkswagen, it marked the start of a potential new tie-up with Ford that could reshape the autonomous-vehicle landscape. Discussions between the two automakers are "progressing well," Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess reportedly told hundreds of senior executives.
With a likely financial investment, Volkswagen will gain more control over development and implementation of self-driving technology.
"Aurora, I think perhaps they didn't want to give Volkswagen as much control over the process, whereas they'll have that with an equity stake in Ford or Argo," said Sam Abuelsamid, senior transportation analyst with Navigant Research. "Volkswagen will probably have more control over the software stack and hardware with Ford."
This series of events began last summer, when Volkswagen tried to buy Aurora outright, a development first reported in August by Bloomberg. Even with internal efforts underway to develop automated systems, the company has sought external partners. The Aurora-Volkswagen partnership was made official in January 2018 at CES.
Unlike peers such as Cruise and Argo AI, Aurora has been intent on remaining an independent provider of self-driving systems.
"That has pretty serious implications on the way that you develop, and interesting implications for the product we ultimately launch," Aurora co-founder Sterling Anderson said last month during an appearance on the Shift podcast. "Being an independent provider means scaling to multiple vehicle platforms of various makes and models."
In addition to FCA and Hyundai, Aurora has an established partnership with Byton and an undisclosed company. Aurora says it has raised more than $600 million in its latest funding round, which includes investment from Amazon.
Hyundai and Aurora have collaborated on self-driving vehicles since 2018, starting with plans to deploy the system, called the Aurora Driver, on Hyundai's Nexo fuel cell vehicle. This marks Hyundai's first investment in Aurora.
Hyundai says it intends to commercialize autonomous technology in robotaxi fleets in select global cities starting in 2021. The Aurora Driver is intended purely for Level 4 self-driving operations — those that can operate in specific conditions and require no driving or oversight role for humans.
Details on Volkswagen's budding autonomous-vehicle relationship with Ford remained under wraps as of Friday, June 14. But Abuelsamid sees room for collaboration on the commercial side of the burgeoning partnership in addition to the technology itself.
"It's not exactly the same, but like Ford, Volkswagen has been working on this business end with [ride-sharing service] Moia and some of their other investments on the mobility-services side," he said. "So they've at least been thinking of this and showing concepts of purpose-built vehicles for these kind of applications. Maybe a potential partnership with Ford expands the commercial-vehicle partnership into the dedicated autonomous-vehicle space."