Three German premium car producers are interested in Nokia’s digital maps business, called Here, as a key component in their self-driving cars, Handelsblatt has learned from people familiar with the matter.
The Nokia business, which had sales of €969 million, or $1.09 billion, last year and booked an operating loss of €1.2 billion due to a writedown of goodwill, is estimated to be worth between €2 billion and €3 billion.
Google, the search engine giant also known for its Google Maps software, is experimenting with self-driving cars and seen as a rival to major carmakers, such as Germany's Audi, Daimler and BMW, which have similar plans.
Finland’s Nokia, which consists of mobile network systems, Here and technology licensing after selling its mobile phone business to Microsoft last year, confirmed it might sell Here, which is based in Berlin.
We are closely monitoring this topic. High quality mapping technology is one of the prerequisites for automated driving. Bodo Uebber, Daimler's chief financial officer
Audi, Daimler and BMW declined to comment directly on the matter, but Daimler’s chief financial officer, Bodo Uebber, told Handelsblatt: “We are closely monitoring this topic. High quality mapping technology is one of the prerequisites for automated driving.”
In addition to interest from the German carmakers, Uber, the tax ordering smartphone app, has submitted a bid as high as $3 billion for Here, the New York Times reported on Thursday, citing people familiar with the matter. Uber and Nokia declined to comment, the paper said.
The German carmakers have teamed up with Chinese search engine Baidu on its offer for Here, the newspaper reported, citing two people familiar with the matter. An unnamed private equity firm has also made a bid, the paper said.
Nokia, which acquired much of the mapping business when it bought U.S. digital maps maker Navteq for $8.1 billion in 2008, has also tried to raise buyer interest from Apple, Alibaba, Facebook, Amazon and other companies, Bloomberg reported two weeks ago, citing people familiar with the matter.
“I’m surprised they have formed a coalition,” Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, a business professor at the University of Dusiburg-Essen and an auto industry expert, said about Audi, Daimler and BMW joining forces.
“I can understand Baidu’s interest if it wants to compete with Google. What I find hard to understand is that three competitors join forces,” Mr. Dudenhöffer told Handelsblatt Global Edition.
“Think of infrastructure, which is not a focus of carmakers," Mr. Dudenhöffer added. "Car producers do not build roads - maps are virtual roads.”
A team of only three premium car makers would also be instable because they are each other’s strongest competitors and three would be too little to maintain and update the mapping data with information from drivers, the auto expert said.
Owning Nokia’s mapping operations, however, would prevent the data from being picked up by competitors, such as Uber or Amazon, and becoming dependent on Google or another Internet firm for maps, according to industry observers. Publicly listed TomTom of the Netherlands is only one other global supplier of high quality digital maps.
Here uses driver data from Audi, Mercedes, BMW and other car brands. About 80 percent of this data comes from the car industry, of which 30 percent from the three German brands, sources familiar with the matter told Handelsblatt.
Audi, Daimler and BMW are considering to stop supplying driver data to Nokia if they fail to acquire Here, the sources said. All three carmakers would invest heavily in the company if successful, they added.
German car producers and automotive suppliers, including Continental, the world’s largest maker of car parts see themselves at the forefront of self-driving car technology.
Markus Fasse is a Handelsblatt editor specialized in the aviation and automobile industry. Christof Kerkmann is an editor for Handelsblatt Online and writes about the technology sector. Gilbert Kreijger is an editor with Handelsblatt Global Edition in Berlin, covering companies and markets. To contact the authors: [email protected], [email protected] and [email protected]