Washington will have plenty of company. A recent study from consulting group AT Kearney says the worldwide market for autonomous vehicles will grow to $560 billion in 20 years. Many of them will be electric. Ford, GM, Nissan, and Aston Martin, in particular, have plans to create all-electric vehicle fleets as rampant innovation drives down the cost of electric to be on par with gasoline-fueled alternatives by 2025, according to RocketSpace's research team.
Who's funding all this innovation? A diverse group of investors that includes deep-pocketed private VC firms and more than a few corporates. Here's a closer look at what some of the bigger names in the sector are investing in right now:
1. BMW iVenture. Headquartered in New York, BMW's $100 million fund has made 16 investments in 14 companies as of this writing. That includes Zendrive, whose products collect and analyze mobile sensor data in order improve road safety and lay the groundwork for autonomous vehicles. (BMW led a $5 million venture round and then participated in a subsequent $13.5 million series A financing round.)
2. Ford. While the automaker doesn't have a venture fund, per se, Ford has a history of making bets when it suits management's strategy. Two recent investments reflect their commitment to the market for autonomous vehicles: Civil Maps, which uses a form of artificial intelligence to map the physical spaces in which cars drive, and Velodyne LiDAR, which makes advanced LiDAR sensors used for 3D mapping.
3. Daimler. Like Ford, the Mercedes-Benz parent has a history of making bets on different automotive startups. Its three pre-IPO investments in Tesla Motors have been the most successful. More recent bets have focused on self-driving technology. For example, in December 2014, Daimler invested in Quanergy Systems' $40 million series A round of funding. Quanergy makes advanced LiDAR sensors used for 3D mapping used to safely guide autonomous vehicles.
4. Delphi Automotive. The auto parts maker has made two notable outside investments, and both were in Quanergy. Delphi joined Daimler in participating in the company's series A round and then doubled down in a $90 million series B round in August.
5. Toyota Research Institute. To capitalize on market interest in self-driving cars, the Japanese automaker commissioned TRI in January to work on artificial intelligence projects. In June, Reuters reported that the group would invest $1 billion over five years on AI systems for improving safety. Earlier this month the group started making good on its promise by investing an undisclosed sum in Nauto, which uses cameras to automatically detect a forthcoming collision and document what happens next. BMW iVentures also participated in the round.
6. NVIDIA. Best known for making computer graphics so real that professional gamers insist on using NVIDIA-powered systems, the chipmaker also has build a high-powered car computer for self-driving vehicles. Tesla has adopted the technology for its onboard supercomputer for autonomous control. Future generations of the NVIDIA DRIVE platform could get an upgrade from Optimus Ride, an MIT spinoff working on self-driving technology for electric vehicle fleets. NVIDIA participated in the company's $5.25 million seed round, which was completed in October.
Step on the Gas
Finally, this story wouldn't be complete without mentioning General Motors and its $1 billion acquisition of Cruise Automation, which, going into the deal, had raised just $18.8 million from 34 investors. Enthusiasm for self-driving cars and the technology that powers them should persist into the foreseeable future.
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