Ford Motor plans to launch its autonomous vehicle business in 2022 with vehicles based on its Escape Hybrid crossover.
Walmart is expanding its autonomous vehicle program to include Ford Motor and Argo AI, a self-driving car startup backed by the automaker.
The companies said on Wednesday that the collaboration will use Ford Escape hybrids with Argo AI technology for Walmart deliveries in Miami, the District of Columbia and Austin, Texas.
The program will allow Walmart customers to place orders for groceries and other items online for self-sufficient door-to-door delivery.
“We are excited to expand our autonomous delivery efforts into three new markets alongside Argo and Ford,” said Tom Ward, senior vice president of last mile delivery at Walmart US, in a statement. “This collaboration will strengthen our mission of getting products to our customers’ homes with unmatched speed and ease, and in turn, will continue to pave the way for autonomous delivery. “
Ford and Walmart operated a pilot program with autonomous vehicles in 2018. The retail giant currently operates autonomous delivery pilots with Gatik and General Motors, backed by Cruise. In addition to the partnerships, Walmart took an undisclosed stake in Cruise earlier this year.
Online grocery orders are a central part of Walmart +, the big box retailer membership program launched a year ago. One of the benefits of the program is free and unlimited grocery delivery to members’ homes. The subscription service competes with Amazon Prime.
Walmart, the country’s largest grocer, has seen dramatic growth in online sales during the pandemic as more consumers have stayed home and restocked their fridges from their couches. Its ecommerce sales in the United States grew 79% in the last fiscal year, which ended Jan.31. Still, Walmart hasn’t made a profit from its e-commerce business, which puts pressure on the company to come up with more costs. efficient ways to deliver boxes and loads of items to doors.
The new collaboration is the first multi-city autonomous vehicle service for Walmart. Bryan Salesky, founder and CEO of Argo AI, said focusing on three cities would show “the potential for large-scale autonomous vehicle delivery services.”
As a first step, the companies will deploy a small fleet in each of the three cities, with the intention of expanding over time, according to an Argo AI spokesperson. Argo AI, which Ford jointly owns with German automaker Volkswagen, is testing autonomous vehicles in the three cities and others.
The commercialization of autonomous vehicles has been much more difficult than many anticipated just a few years ago. The challenges have led to a consolidation in the autonomous vehicle industry after years of enthusiasm touting the technology as the next multi-billion dollar market for transportation companies.
Some companies, like Uber Technologies, have given up on developing the systems in-house, while others, like Zoox, have sold to Amazon. Waymo remains the most prominent leader, operating a fleet of public autonomous vehicles in Arizona.
– CNBC Melissa Repko contributed to this report.