11/5/2015 - 12:00 am

Uber Ready to Spend $3 Billion on Nokia Maps

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Uber may be known for the ridesharing services it offers and for the opprobrium it has endured from the taxi industry, but the company is currently trying to leave behind its controversial reputation and is testing the waters to see if it can become a logistics company.

The U.S.-based company has reportedly submitted a bid for Google Maps’ main competitor, Here, three people familiar with the matter told The New York Times. The sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that Uber’s bid is worth US$3 billion. However, the amount could be insufficient, because Nokia, the Finnish telecom giant which owns Here, announced in April that it was flirting with the idea of selling the business and it was seeking at least €3 billion. The unit is profitless and has lost over half of its value since Nokia bought it seven years ago.

Despite Uber’s wish to become a logistics company by adding Here to its growing portfolio of mapping software firms, which also includes San Jose-based deCarta and the Uber Advanced Technologies Center, Nokia may choose another owner for its unit. A group of German automakers, which includes Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW, has teamed up with Chinese Internet search Baidu on the bid. Plus, a secret private equity firm has also submitted a bid, people with knowledge of the offer claim. Regardless of their choice, Nokia should officially announce the sale of Here by the end of this month, so it remains to be seen which company will be the highest bidder and whether their sentiments go hand in hand with Nokia’s.

For now, it seems that Here’s approach is on the same wavelength with the German carmakers’, which do not want to be minimalized by Google’s platform. Floris van de Klashorst, head of Here’s connected-driving projects, told Bloomberg that Nokia’s unit offers “something that helps [customers] build their business,” unlike its rival, which gets “the ability to use an asset to help build Google’s business.” Here would steer drivers around traffic jams, while Google would direct them to restaurants or stores which purchased ads.

The New York Times’ sources also revealed that Nokia has reached out to numerous potential buyers, including Apple, Alibaba and Amazon, but they warned that negotiations are continuing and the talks might not mean that a deal will be reached. The battle between Uber, the group of German automakers and the undisclosed private equity firm highlights digital mapping services’ growing importance. Facebook and Microsoft have previously shown interest in annexing Here.

Google Maps may have roughly one billion mobile users, but Here dominates in automobile mapping. The battle for Nokia’s unit has already begun, as Mercedes-Benz and other German carmakers are now testing autonomous vehicles that rely heavily on Here’s technology to help cars navigate around city streets with limited intervention from drivers. Another advantage the group of automakers has is its desire to give others access to the Finnish telecom giant’s mapping service, under a licensing agreement.

As a result, the business will be able to maintain its global reach and still be Google Maps’ primary nemesis, one of the people familiar with the matter told The New York Times. Jeremy Carlson, analyst at HIS Automotive judged that, since mapping data is a vital long-term asset for the auto industry, it comes as no surprise that the group prefers to protect it, the newspaper noted.

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