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Yesterday’s news about Uber selling its Advanced Technologies Group to Aurora was no surprise. Reports of this potential sale started in mid-November as the performance of Uber’s autonomous vehicles continued to disappoint despite the $3 billion-plus poured into R&D over the years.
What remains to be seen is how the acquisition will help Aurora, which recently put robotaxis on the back burner in favor of autonomous trucks. What is clear is this deal is the latest in a string of major mergers and acquisitions that have taken place in the autonomous vehicle industry. But, as you might have guessed, none of these deals or the billions of dollars poured into development efforts have panned out yet.
The table below summarizes 10 of the most notable mergers and acquisitions in the autonomous vehicle space. As you can see, GM investment into Lyft and acquisition of Cruise in early 2016 seems to have started the craze. In 2017, Intel paid $15 billion for Mobileye and Ford announced a $1 billion investment into Argo AI.
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Oliver Mitchell, venture partner at ff Venture Capital, said on The Robot Report Podcast the excitement around autonomous vehicles was created by Detroit’s fear of being taken over by Silicon Valley tech companies.
“There was this big fear that Google was going to eat GM’s lunch,” Mitchell said. “So the car manufacturers did these acquisitions. When GM did it, Ford [then] did it, and other car companies did it. Tier-1 automotive suppliers were like ‘well [our competitors] are buying technology, are we going to be in business? So Tier-1s start acquiring [companies building autonomous vehicles]. That’s what really drove this.”
Here is additional information about each deal and where the companies currently stand.
Aurora acquires Uber ATG: Uber is investing $400 million into Palo Alto, Calif.-based Aurora to take a 26% stake in the new venture. Aurora was valued at $2.5 billion after a $530 million investment in 2019. It said the Uber deal would raise its valuation to $10 billion. Uber ATG will transfer its 1,200 employees to Aurora, which at present has 600 staff. Founded in 2017, Aurora is building an autonomous vehicle stack both for driverless cars and trucks.
Amazon buys Zoox for $1.2 billion: The on-demand and self-driving car race got a bit more competitive when Amazon acquired Zoox. Founded in 2014, Zoox’s goal is to build from the ground up zero-emissions vehicles for autonomous ride hailing. Zoox has been teasing the unveiling of a new car, but an image leaked on Reddit prior to the Dec. 14 reveal. The ride-sharing vehicle, which you can see in the picture below, looks similar to GM Cruise’s Origin vehicle that was introduced earlier in 2020.
Ford and Volkswagen back Argo AI: In July 2019, Volkswagen announced it would invest $1 billion in Argo AI. Volkswagen also folded its $1.6 billion Autonomous Intelligent Driving unit into Argo AI. Ford invested $1 billion in Argo AI in early 2017. Both Ford and Volkswagen have 40% stakes in Argo AI, which was recently valued at more than $7 billion. Ford recently said it will delay until 2022 plans to launch an autonomous vehicle service
Waymo brings on Latent Logic: Waymo acquired Latent Logic, a UK start-up that uses imitation learning to simulate models of human behavior on the road. It marked the launch of Waymo’s first European engineering hub, which is located in Oxford. Spun out of Oxford University in 2017, Latent Logic develops simulations of motorist, cyclist, and pedestrian behavior using data collected from traffic cameras. Waymo has often touted that it has driven billions of miles in simulation.
Apple acquires troubled Drive.ai: Apple rescued Drive.ai just before it shut its doors. Drive.ai was founded in 2015 and worked on kits to add autonomy to existing vehicles. Drive.ai was once valued at $200 million. The acquisition shows that Apple, despite lagging behind the competition, remains interested in autonomous vehicles, even after shutting down “Project Titan” again in January 2019.
Daimler Trucks and Torc Robotics: Daimler Trucks in March 2019 acquired a majority share in Torc Robotics, which develops autonomous vehicle software. Torc has been working on self-driving trucks with Daimler’s chassis research and development team. Daimler also recently partnered with Waymo on autonomous trucks, but said it won’t affect the relationship with Torc.
Delphi acquires nuTonomy: Delphi Automotive, a UK Tier 1 automotive supplier, acquired nuTonomy, a Boston self-driving ride sharing startup, for $450 million in October 2017. A lot has happened since then. Delphi changed its name to Aptiv, it launched a fleet of robotaxis (with safety drivers) in Las Vegas, and formed a joint venture with Hyundai, called Motional, that was just approved for fully driverless tests in Nevada.
Intel buys Mobileye for $15.3B: Intel reorganized in 2016 and created an Autonomous Driving Division, which included strategic partnerships with, and investments in several companies, including Mobileye. With the Mobileye acquisition, Intel gained the ability to offer automakers a larger package of all of the components they will need as vehicles become autonomous. Mobileye recently announced it will outfit its first-generation fleet of driverless vehicles with Luminar’s LiDAR sensor. The vehicles are being piloted in Dubai, Tel Aviv, Paris, China and Daegu City, South Korea. Mobileye’s ultimate aim is to expand its robotaxi operations and sell its self-driving stack to other companies. Mobileye is targeting commercial robotaxi services to be launched in 2022.
GM acquires Cruise and invests in Lyft in 2016: These are the two deals that set the industry in motion. In January 2016, GM invested $500 million in Lyft with plans to develop an on-demand network of self-driving cars with the ride-sharing service. A couple of months later, GM acquired startup Cruise Automation for upwards of $1 billion. Cruise missed its original timeline for a commercial robotaxi service, as did every other autonomous vehicle company. But earlier in 2020, it introduced its Origin ride-sharing vehicle and partnered with Walmart on autonomous delivery tests in Arizona.