Coverage: Intel makes play to join self-driving car business
Intel Corp. agreed to buy Israeli autonomous vehicle technology firm Mobileye for $15.3 billion on Monday in a deal that thrusts the U.S. chipmaker into competition with rivals Nvidia Corp. and Qualcomm Inc. to develop driverless systems for global automakers.
The pricey acquisition of Mobileye could propel the world’s largest computer chipmaker into the front ranks of automotive suppliers at a time when Intel has been reaching for market beyond its core computer semiconductor business.
It also promises to escalate the arms race among the world’s carmakers and suppliers to acquire autonomous vehicle technology, and could fuel already-overheated valuations of self-driving start-ups.
The stakes are enormous. Last year, Goldman Sachs projected the market for advanced driver assistance systems and autonomous vehicles would grow from about $3 billion in 2015 to $96 billion in 2025 and $290 billion in 2035.
Skeptics have questioned whether auto companies and suppliers will be able to deploy fully self-driving cars safely in the next four years, as several have promised. Investment analysts on Monday raised concerns about the potential synergies between Intel and Mobileye, as well as the acquisition’s price.
Intel has not been a significant player in the sector, although it has invested in at least half a dozen start-up companies developing different components for self-driving systems, from robotics to sensors.
Mark Scott of The New York Times reports that chipmakers need to diversify their business:
Faced with an existential threat to its legacy computer business, Intel — alongside competitors like Qualcomm — has focused on autonomous cars as a new and potentially lucrative market. Many of these driverless vehicles, experts say, will require immense computing power, including the latest microchips able to crunch reams of data in seconds to keep the cars safe, and on the road.
And by acquiring Mobileye, whose digital vision technology helps autonomous vehicles safely navigate city streets, Intel aims to broaden its offerings beyond just chips to a wider suite of products that driverless vehicles will require. It hopes, as a result, to appeal to automakers that want to offer autonomous driving but lack the in-house expertise and do not want to rely on the likes of Google.
“Scale is going to win in this market,” Brian Krzanich, Intel’s chief executive, told investors on Monday. “I don’t believe that every carmaker can invest to do independent development into autonomous cars.”
Intel has a history with such strategic moves. It cornered the personal computer market over more than three decades, supplying hundreds of millions of desktop computers with much of their internal architecture, after dominating which microchips were used in the industry. But in recent years, Intel has struggled to find its feet as people’s habits have increasingly turned to the mobile world, where the company’s chips have lost out to rivals.
Ingrid Lunden of TechCrunch reports that Intel will move its driverless operation to Israel:
Confirming our earlier report, Intel said that Mobileye’s CTO and co-founder, Prof. Amnon Shashua, will lead Intel’s autonomous driving division, which will be based in Israel. Doug Davis, Intel’s SVP, will oversee how Mobileye and Intel work together across the whole company and will report to Shashua.
Other notable exits that have tapped into Israel’s expertise in computer vision and machine learning have included Google buying mapping startup Waze for $1.1 billion and Apple buying 3D sensor specialist PrimeSense for reportedly around $300 million.
The negotiations about what stays where for Mobileye and Intel are reminiscent of one of the other big M&A deals in Israel’s tech history, concerning Waze. Originally, Waze was being courted by Facebook, although there were disagreements over where Waze’s staff would be centered: engineering wanted to stay in Israel while Facebook was keen to get them to Facebook’s HQ in Menlo Park. Ultimately, that delay led to Google swooping in, agreeing to Waze’s terms and closing the deal.
Intel has been working officially with Mobileye since last year. Earlier this year, with BMW, the two started to test 40 self-driving cars equipped with the two companies’ technology. Mobileye was also an early partner of Tesla’s for its autonomous technology, although that relationship is ending amid some controversial undertones about safety measures at the carmaker. Other investments that Intel has made in the space of cars include taking a stake in Here (which will feed into the mapping initiatives at Mobileye); acquiring Itseez and Yogitech for safety and navigation functionalities in autonomous cars; making a commitment of at least $250 million to the space (which sounds so tiny considering today’s price tag); keeping a strong presence at auto shows; and, in November, launching a dedicated autonomous driving group, which is headed up by Doug Davis, who will now report to Mobileye’s CTO.