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BMW, Mercedes Benz end ‘long term’ automated driving alliance, for now

BMW Group and Mercedes-Benz AG have punted on what was meant to be a long term collaboration to develop next-generation automated driving technology together, less than a year after announcing the agreement.

The German automakers called the break up “mutual and amicable” and have each agreed to concentrate on their existing development paths. Those new paths may include working with new or current partners. The two companies also emphasized that cooperation may be resumed at a later date.

The partnership, which was announced in July 2019, was never meant to be exclusive.  Instead, it reflected the increasingly common approach among legacy manufacturers to form loose development agreements in an aim to share the capitally intensive work of developing, testing and validating automated driving technology.

The two companies did have some lofty goals. The partnership aimed to develop  driver assistance systems, highly automated driving on highways, and automated parking and launch those technology in series vehicles scheduled for 2024.

It seems that the perceived benefits of working together were overshadowed by reality: creating a shared technology platform was a more complex and expensive task than expected, according to comments from the companies. BMW and Mercedes-Benz AG said they were unable to hold detailed expert discussions and talk to suppliers about technology roadmaps until the contract was signed last year.

“In these talks — and after extensive review — both sides concluded that, in view of the expense involved in creating a shared technology platform, as well as current business and economic conditions, the timing is not right for successful implementation of the cooperation,” the companies said.

BMW and Mercedes have other projects and partners. BMW, for instance, is part of a collaboration with Intel, Mobileye, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Ansys. Daimler and Bosch launched a robotaxi pilot project in San Jose last year.

Meanwhile, both companies are still working together in other areas. Five years, BMW and Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, joined Audi AG to acquire location and technology platform HERE. That ownership consortium has since grown to include more companies.

And last year, BMW Group and Daimler AG also pooled their mobility services in a joint venture under the umbrella of the NOW family.

Separately, BMW said Friday it will cut 6,000 jobs in an agreement reached with the German Works Council. The cuts, prompted by sluggish sales caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, will be reportedly accomplished through early retirement, non-renewal of temporary contracts, ending redundant positions and not filling vacant positions, Marketwatch reported.

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Workforce training app developer Poka adds strategic investor Schneider Electric

Poka, a workforce training app and software service for industrial companies, has added SE Ventures, the venture capital arm of the European energy and automation conglomerate Schneider Electric to its roster of backers.

The company has raised over $23 million in funding so far for its application and software services package that provides training and tips for workers on the factory floor.

The company said it would use the new funding to expand its global marketing through new distribution strategies and speed up its product development.

Since 2014, Poka has been selling its services to companies including Bosch, Danone, Mars, The Kraft Heinz Company, Johnson & Johnson and Stanley Black and Decker, the company said.

Previous backers of the Quebec City, Canada -based company include Robert Bosch Venture Capital, Groupe Leclerc, and CDPQ, according to the company.

For Poka, demand is driven by the combination of increasing automation and an aging workforce creating a skills gap in industrial facilities.

Poka was designed specifically to address the challenges and needs of large global manufacturers — many of whom are clients of Schneider Electric,” said Poka chief executive Alex Leclerc in a statement. “Our partnership gives us global reach within our target markets and provides value to our joint customers by offering them a more complete path to digital transformation.”

For SE Ventures general partner Grant Allen, the replacement of aging technologies around communication and knowledge-sharing in manufacturing facilities represented an obvious investment opportunity. “The tools and systems used to communicate, capture and share knowledge in commercial production facilities are largely outdated, leaving workers without the necessary information to be effective and safe,” said Allen.

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