A spokesperson from VW confirmed the news, telling TechCrunch that “activities under our partnership have been concluded.” VW did not provide any further details.
Aurora didn’t provide any details either, accept to say “VW Group has been a wonderful partner” since its early days of development of its self-driving vehicle stack dubbed the Aurora Driver.
Aurora, a nearly three-year-old startup that has raised $530 million, develops and supplies the “full-stack solution” for self-driving vehicles. It has existing partnerships with Hyundai, Byton and, more recently, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, as well as several other unnamed companies, which it alluded to in its statement.
“As the Driver matures and our platform grows in strength, we continue to work with a growing array of partners who complement our expertise and expand the reach of our product,” Aurora said in a statement.
The partnership was not contentious and the initial agreement ended on good terms, two sources familiar with the deal between Aurora and VW told TechCrunch. One source inferred to continued conversations between the two companies without providing any details.
In the end, what started out as a collaboration ended up as misalignment in wants and needs.
The two companies had already been working together for six months before their joint January 2018 announcement, not long after Sterling Anderson, Drew Bagnell and Chris Urmson had left jobs at Tesla, Uber and Waymo, respectively, to found Aurora.
When the partnership was finally announced, VW said the two companies were going to bring self-driving electric vehicles to cities as Mobility-as-a-Service fleets. It was an important early endorsement for Aurora and it showed VW was striking out beyond the confines of its massive company to seek out the latest innovations.
The plan was for Volkswagen to deploy on public roads autonomous test vehicles developed with Aurora. Johann Jungwirth, VW’s chief digital officer at the time and a key connection between the two companies, said the number of test vehicles were going to grow to “triple digits” in 2019, and “four digits” in 2020, before going into production in 2021. Ultimately, the self-driving system could be integrated across VW Group’s many brands, including Volkswagen Passenger Cars, Audi, Bentley, Skoda and Porsche. That never materialized, and Jungwirth left VW earlier this month.
VW was going through its own internal changes as Herbert Diess took the CEO spot. And it appeared, based on insiders, that VW wanted more control over its autonomous vehicle program, possibly even ownership. Bloomberg reported in August 2018 that VW, in the hunt for autonomous vehicle technology, had tried to buy Aurora. The startup declined the offer over a desire to stay independent, according to the report.
A better fit for VW’s wants could be Ford, or more specifically the Pittsburgh-based company Argo AI in which the U.S. automaker invested $1 billion in 2017. Talks between the two companies have been ongoing for months now, although there is already one deal between VW and Ford locked in — Ford and VW finalized an agreement in January to build commercial vans and medium-sized pickup trucks together as early as 2022.