Ford plans to spend $4 billion on autonomous vehicles by 2023

Ford Motor plans to spend $4 billion through 2023 in a newly created LLC dedicated to building out an autonomous vehicles business.

The automaker announced Tuesday it has created Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC, which will house the company’s self-driving systems integration, autonomous-vehicle research and advanced engineering, AV transportation-as-a-service network development, user experience, business strategy and business development teams. The $4 billion spending plan includes a $1 billion investment in startup Argo AI.

The new LLC will be primarily based at Ford’s Corktown campus in Detroit and will hold Ford’s ownership stake in Argo AI, the company’s Pittsburgh-based partner for self-driving system development.

Sherif Marakby, who heads up Ford’s autonomous vehicles and electrification division, has been appointed CEO of Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC. He’ll report to a board of directors chaired by Marcy Klevorn, Ford’s executive vice president and president of mobility, a larger department that also houses Ford Smart Mobility LLC.

The investment in Argo AI — the startup launched by former Google self-driving project veteran Bryan Salesky and Peter Rander, who was the engineering lead at the Uber Advanced Technologies Group — has been public since the deal was first announced in February 2017.

But the total planned spend of $4 billion has not. The investment figure, and Ford’s decision to create a new organization dedicated to all things autonomous vehicles, provides some clues to the automaker’s ultimate ambitions. Ford’s work on autonomous vehicles was scattered throughout the company, from product development and research departments to its marketing and planning organizations.

Its decision to bring all of these various pieces together suggests the company is evolving from research and testing toward an autonomous vehicle business. In short, it sees a path toward commercial deployment.

“Ford has made tremendous progress across the self driving value chain — from technology development to business model innovation to user experience,” said Ford CEO Jim Hackett. “Now is the right time to consolidate our autonomous driving platform into one team to best position the business for the opportunities ahead.”

In June, Ford laid out a plan to spend the next four years transforming at least 1.2 million square feet of space in Corktown — Detroit’s oldest neighborhood — into a hub for its electric and autonomous vehicles businesses.

Ford plans to house 2,500 Ford employees, most from its emerging mobility team, in its new Corktown campus by 2022. The new campus will have space to accommodate 2,500 additional employees of partners and other businesses. The remaining 300,000 square feet will serve as a mix of community and retail space and residential housing.