In the realm of autonomous technology, Delphi and nuTonomy already had a lot in common. Both established pilot projects involving automated cars in Boston and Singapore. Both believe the commercial-vehicle market holds more short-term promise for widespread deployment. Both have been searching for ways to reach that market faster.
One solution: Join forces. Delphi announced Tuesday that it will acquire Boston-based nuTonomy for $450 million. Combined, the two companies roughly double their workforce dedicated to autonomous driving to more than 200 employees, a development that will hasten plans to deploy automated vehicles as soon as 2019. Delphi is also partnered with Mobileye and Intel as an integrator of autonomous technology for both BMW and Fiat Chrysler.
Plans to deploy autonomous taxis in Singapore remain slated for 2021, but this partnership will allow Delphi to target initial deployments in other cities in “a 2019 timeframe,” according to Delphi chief technology officer Glen DeVos. “There’s really two aspects of that acceleration,” DeVos continued. “One is the timelines. Can we get to deployment sooner? And the second is, ‘How many cities can we actually deploy in?’ ”
It’s the latest big move for Delphi, a global automotive supplier that has already made several acquisitions in its bid to remake itself as a software-focused company for the driverless future. The company recently spun off its traditional powertrain business into a separate entity while embarking on new plans to grow in the business of self-driving cars. Notably, in 2015 Delphi acquired Pittsburgh-based Ottomatika, which also provides software for robotic vehicles.
In that sense, nuTonomy provides overlapping technology. Ottomatika and nuTonomy will continue stand-alone development of their software in their respective Pittsburgh and Boston headquarters, and DeVos says there’s appeal in designing two separate software packages with the possibility of combining their work down the road.
“Fundamentally, we are very, very interested and focused on two independent software stacks,” he said. “We think that’s important to achieve a level of performance and functional safety requirements. From perception to control of a vehicle, we now have the ability to leverage those two independent automated-driving stacks and also to combine them in the best possible way.”
Beyond its software, nuTonomy brings new capabilities to the relationship, both in the ability to enable remote operations of autonomous vehicles—should a car get stuck in a quandary, it can be handed off to a remote operator—and it further brings software designed to maximize the efficiency of autonomous fleets.
“I feel very confident saying we stack up as well or better than anyone else in the industry.”
– Karl Iagnemma, nuTonomy
It also brings into Delphi a broad range of partnerships with both traditional OEMs and ride-hailing companies. Earlier this year, nuTonomy established a partnership with Lyft to fine-tune user experiences in hailing autonomous taxis and enhancing in-vehicle operations. The company has also worked with Groupe PSA on integrating its software into the company’s autonomous test vehicles.
With General Motors acquiring Cruise Automation for $1 billion in early 2016 and Ford investing $1 billion in Argo AI earlier this year, the price tag seems like a comparative bargain for Delphi. While nuTonomy may have hoped to command a similar figure, CEO Karl Iagnemma says the deal with Delphi made sense for more than pure financial reasons.
“When you think about companies that have the ability to win and win big in the autonomous space, it’s companies that have the exact profile of Delphi—the will, the technical capability, the interest in addressing the commercial space, and then the relationships and trust in the OEM community,” he said. “Delphi can address all of that. We’re limited, frankly, by scale and speed and bandwidth, and one of the really exciting things about Delphi is the speed and scale and skills of this combined team. I feel very confident saying we stack up as well or better than anyone else in the industry, when you look at those factors.”
Once the deal closes, which is expected by the end of the year, Delphi will have automated-driving operations in Boston, Pittsburgh, Singapore, Silicon Valley, and Santa Monica, California.