Ford is set to invest $1bn over the next five years in a new driverless car unit Argo, marking a significant step ahead in the carmaker's goal of launching a commercial self-driving vehicle fleet by 2021.
The Argo unit will be led by two engineers who were previously at Google and Uber; Bryan Salesky and Peter Rander.
Bryan Salesky, chief executive of Argo, spent three years leading hardware development for self-driving cars at Google. Peter Rander was an engineering lead at Uber’s self-driving car arm - now called the Advanced Technology Group - until September last year. Both will sit on the board of Argo, along with two executives from Ford and an independent director.
The new unit is fully funded and majority-owned by Ford, but organised as a quasi-independent model. It will be headquartered in Pittsburgh, with additional offices in Michigan and in Silicon Valley.
Ford aims to recruit 200 employees to the unit by the end of the year.
It's one of a number of carmakers and tech companies fighting to own the self-driving revolution. General Motors paid $1bn to acquire driverless start-up Cruise, and Toyota committed to invest $1bn in 2015 to self-driving research in Silicon Valley.
Google's self-driving car project, Waymo, is thought to lead the fleet. Its cars have driven nearly 2.5 million miles autonomously.
Uber has been doubling down its on its self-driving efforts, last year acquiring self-driving trucking company Otto and artificial intelligence and machine learning research startup Geometric Intelligence. However, Uber's self-driving arm has been marred by the departures of some of its top engineering talent.
Mark Fields, chief executive of Ford, said: “Autonomous vehicles will have a significant impact on society just as Ford’s assembly line did a hundred years ago."
“With Argo’s agility and its scale, we are combining the benefits of a technology start-up with the experience and discipline we have at Ford.”