German automaker BMW has announced that it will freeze its self-driving technology development program with Mercedes-Benz after a steep plunge in demand for its vehicles due to the coronavirus. BMW will also get rid of 6,000 jobs, which accounts for 5% of its global employment force of 120,000 people.
The halted partnership between the two German giants will delay the development of self-driving software that was agreed upon nearly one year ago on July 4, 2019. The two companies had put together a team of 1,200 technicians in an attempt to chase Tesla, which holds a dominating lead in the self-driving sector.
Plans initially had intended for BMW and Mercedes-Benz to introduce semi-autonomous driving capabilities into its vehicles by 2024. However, those intentions have been derailed, giving Tesla an even more significant advantage in the race towards autonomy.
In a joint statement between the two companies, BMW and Mercedes-Benz announced that they “are putting their cooperation on development of next-generation technology for automated driving temporarily on hold.” After reviewing the partnership extensively, the correct move based on current economic conditions warranted an amicable split between the two companies, at least for the time being.
It has become evident that Tesla is undoubtedly the leader in electric vehicles. In terms of technology, battery capabilities, performance specifications, and self-driving software, Tesla is the golden standard, and nobody comes close.
The scrapping of the partnership between BMW and Mercedes pushes back the two companies’ capability to introduce self-driving vehicles, delaying the competition for Tesla in the market. It has been clear that competition drives technology improvements as a whole, and when one company develops a new capability, others try and replicate it.
However, BMW appears to be on survival mode at this point, and their plan includes the unfortunate downsizing of the company’s workforce. According to an announcement from company executives to Reuters, the decision appears to be based on the direct impact that the coronavirus has had on automotive sales, especially in Germany.
“Further steps are needed to make the BMW Group more resilient to external influences and market fluctuations,” the executives stated. Workers who will remain employed will have their capacity adjusted “by reducing employment contracts with extended weekly working hours for exempt employees.”
The coronavirus has had an undeniable impact on the automotive sector as a whole, and it seems that, for the time being, BMW and Mercedes are taking steps to ensure that a future of manufacturing luxury vehicles is certain — even if that means taking a step back from the development of autonomous driving systems.