VW, Ford join in broad robocar partnership

Volkswagen will sink $2.6 billion into a Pittsburgh autonomous-vehicle company that’s mostly owned by Ford as part of a broader partnership on electric and self-driving vehicles, the companies confirmed Friday.

The two automakers will become equal owners of Argo AI, with plans to put autonomous vehicles on the roads in the United States and Europe.

The deal also includes a plan for Ford to use VW’s modular electric vehicle underpinnings to build zero-emissions cars for the European market starting in 2023.

The tie-up has been in the works for months and is another in a long string of industry partnerships as auto companies and tech firms try to spread the enormous costs of developing self-driving and electric vehicles. Neither company will hold a stake in the other.

“While Ford and Volkswagen remain independent and fiercely competitive in the marketplace, teaming up and working with Argo AI on this important technology allows us to deliver unmatched capability, scale and geographic reach,” Ford chief executive Jim Hackett said in a prepared statement.

The VW investment includes $1 billion in cash and the $1.6 billion value of VW’s 200-person Autonomous Intelligent Driving company. Ford had already committed to putting $1 billion into Argo, which the companies now value at $7 billion. It has invested $400 million. VW also will buy $500 million worth of Argo stock over the next three years.

VW’s autonomous unit will become Argo’s development center in Munich, the companies said.

— Associated Press

DOJ pursues criminal probe of J&J talc case

The Justice Department is pursuing a criminal investigation into whether Johnson & Johnson lied to the public about the possible cancer risks of its talcum powder, people with knowledge of the matter said.

The criminal probe, which hasn’t been reported previously, coincides with a regulatory investigation and civil claims by thousands of cancer patients that J&J’s Baby Powder talc was responsible for their illnesses. Now, a grand jury in Washington is examining documents related to what company officials knew about any carcinogens in their products, the people said.

Questions about the product’s safety have led to more than 14,000 lawsuits from consumers asserting that the company’s talc caused their ovarian cancer or mesothelioma, a rare form of the disease linked to asbestos exposure.

J&J disclosed in February that it had received subpoenas, but little was known then about the investigation.

The company said in a statement Friday that there had been no new developments. “We have been fully cooperating with the previously disclosed DOJ investigation and will continue to do so,” said J&J spokeswoman Kim Montagnino. “Johnson’s Baby Powder does not contain asbestos or cause cancer, as supported by decades of independent clinical evidence.”

— Bloomberg News

Also in Business

United Airlines now expects to cancel more than 8,000 flights through October because of the grounding of its Boeing 737 Max planes. United said Friday that it is dropping its 14 Max jets from the schedule until Nov. 3, a month longer than previously planned. The Max was grounded around the world in mid-March after the second of two deadly crashes that killed a total of 346 people.

U.S. producer prices rose slightly in June as the cost of energy and other goods dropped for a second straight month, resulting in the smallest annual increase in producer inflation in nearly 2½ years. The report from the Labor Department on Friday also showed a slowdown in underlying producer prices last month, a sign that overall inflation could continue to rise moderately. Low inflation and growing risks to the economy from a trade war between the United States and China, as well as cooling global growth, are likely to prompt the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates this month for the first time in a decade.

Colombia, the world's top supplier of washed arabica, is creating a special fund to subsidize coffee farmers when international prices fall below production costs. The stabilization fund is the country's latest bid to help farmers struggling as coffee prices have fallen to their lowest in more than a decade.

— From news services