With automakers vying for access to fresh tech and talent in autonomy, manufacturing, and beyond, we analyze the 5 most active OEMs in startup investment and M&A since 2014.
Among the dozens of corporates vying for dominance in autonomous driving, perhaps none have more at stake than the traditional auto manufacturers themselves.
For more than a century, automakers have stood at the top of the heap within a sprawling ecosystem of suppliers and service providers. However, their position as the drivers of the auto ecosystem is now under threat from technology-driven trends in autonomous driving, electrification, and changing ownership models (such as car-sharing, ride-hailing, and new retail strategies).
Given the specter looming over the traditional auto model of building, selling, and operating vehicles, major auto OEMs have become increasingly active in private markets, making significant investments in tech startups.
Using CB Insights data, we identified the 5 most active automakers making investments and acquisitions since 2014, analyzing their deals and how those investments fit into each players’ broader strategy.
Only first financings from each investor are included on these timelines; follow-on rounds to the same company are excluded. We focus on equity financings from major automakers and their corporate VCs. Incubator/accelerator activity is not highlighted in the graphic, though we will discuss each company’s respective programs in the sections below.
Table of contents
- BMW + BMW i Ventures
- Daimler + moovel
- GM + GM Ventures
- Ford + Ford Smart Mobility
- Toyota + Toyota AI Ventures
Please click to enlarge.
BMW + bmw I ventures
The Bavarian automaker’s private markets activity predates the AV craze of the past two years, having established its i Ventures arm in early 2011. It’s not surprising, then, that BMW lands as one of the most active OEMs in tech investment.
Like its peers, BMW has dramatically ramped up its investment programs and pace. In November 2016, the firm quintupled the size of BMW i Ventures from €100 to €500M, also moving the CVC’s offices from New York to Silicon Valley to better tap into mobility startups.
As a corporate investor, BMW Group has also begun taking direct minority stakes in recent years. Although the company has become very active as an investor, it has been noticeably less acquisitive to date than its peers.
Below is a detailed analysis of BMW and BMW i Ventures’ investments and initiatives, grouped by thematic area:
New ownership, mobility, & retail models — BMW has concentrated much of its private market activity in exploring new ride-hailing/sharing and vehicle-sharing models. Its bets here include Bus.com (on-demand bus rides), Shift (e-commerce), Fair.com (lending with all-inclusive pricing), Scoop (carpooling), Ridecell (ride-sharing), and Drover (car-sharing).
BMW has also made investments in adjacent areas such as on-demand maintenance booking through investments in companies such as German startup Caroobi.
Electric vehicles (EVs) — BMW was an early mover in the electrification space with its BMW i sub-brand, but the firm’s in-house EV efforts have seen middling success to date.
However, like many of its peers, the automaker is currently in the midst of a major EV overhaul. It has made a handful of EV startup investments, most recently investing in electric bus startup Proterra through BMW i Ventures. The firm also has EV investments predating our analysis, particularly in charging companies Hubject and Chargepoint.
Autonomous vehicles (AVs) — Although other automakers on this list have turned to acquisitions to build AV competencies, BMW has thus far focused on in-house AV development and partnerships with large tech firms.
BMW’s central partnership is with Intel and Mobileye (established in July 2016, prior to the latter companies’ consolidation). The group has set 2021 as the target date for bringing their autonomous driving system to production, and added Delphi, FCA, and Continental to their platform in 2017.
BMW Group has invested directly in NAUTO, which is currently deploying AI dashcams for driver safety, insurance applications, and AV data collection. BMW was also part of the German consortium that acquired mapping company HERE, alongside Daimler and Audi.
3D printing & advanced manufacturing — This has been a recent focus area for BMW, and its array of stakes in the field are unique among this cohort of major OEMs.
Bets include Carbon3D, Desktop Metal, and Xometry, all of which focus on 3D printing solutions, from plastic and composite to metalworking and CNC machining. BMW i Ventures’ financing of VR training company STRIVR Labs was inspired by the startup’s potential to train employees in manufacturing (in addition to other sales applications).
Besides its primary investment vehicles, BMW also maintains several accelerator and earlier-stage programs to tap into innovation further up the pipeline. Startup Garage focuses on encouraging startups’ product proof-of-concepts and sourcing early-stage products as “venture clients” (purchasing a startup’s service or technology as opposed to its equity).
BMW Group UK also has a more traditional incubation program in collaboration with corporate innovation firm L Marks. This Innovation Lab works across the automaker’s UK operations, including BMW proper, Mini, and BMW Financial Services.
Daimler + MOOVEL
Despite lacking a formal corporate VC arm, Daimler has rapidly ramped up its investment pace to become one of the most active OEMs in private markets.
The company has primarily invested directly through corporate minority stakes; it has also made a number of acquisitions, both via Daimler directly and through its moovel mobility services unit.
New ownership, mobility, & retail models — Like many of its peers, Daimler has focused on mobility and ride-hailing services, hedging against the encroachment of transportation network companies like Uber and any potential decline in direct consumer auto sales.
Much of Daimler’s dealmaking has gone towards its mobility strategy, with deals to Blacklane (Series C), Hailo (corporate majority), FlightCar (asset sale), and Taxibeat (acquisition) all augmenting moovel’s car-sharing and ride-sharing services. Moovel’s RideScout also merged with transit ticketing and payments app GlobeSherpa in April 2016 to form moovel North America.
Daimler has continued investing to diversify its bets in mobility across models and geography, participating in larger financings to companies like Careem, Via, and Turo. Total Via investment includes a $50M joint venture with the startup, and will go towards financing Via’s expansion into Europe (where other Daimler-owned or backed companies already have a strong footprint, such the merged myTaxi–Hailo).
EVs — Daimler bought a pair of German battery companies in 2014, as it sought to beef up its electric vehicle competencies. Daimler was also an investor in Tesla back in 2008 and 2009. The company has largely focused on in-house efforts in the years since, but has recently dived back into electrification investments with Chargepoint (charging stations) and StoreDot (battery tech) as well as an EV joint venture with Chinese partner BAIC.
AVs & autonomous logistics drones — The German OEM’s recent investment in China-based Momenta represents its first stake in a startup working on roadgoing autonomous vehicles. Beyond car-based mobility, Daimler has taken a particular interest in autonomous delivery robots, investing in both aerial drone startup Matternet and ground-based robot maker Starship Technologies in the closing months of 2016. The automaker has shown off electric delivery van “mothership” concepts for both startups’ drones.
On the accelerator front, the company has also been active, establishing Startup Autobahn in Stuttgart (its headquarters city) together with Plug and Play in May 2016. Four months later, Daimler also opened a Startup Autobahn branch dedicated to Singapore and Southeast Asia. In March 2017, moovel’s North America arm also helped launch the Austin, TX-based MobilityX accelerator with Capital Factory.
General Motors + GM ventures
General Motors and its corporate venture arm GM Ventures have been actively investing in, partnering with, and acquiring companies to advance the company’s electric, autonomous, and alternate ownership strategies. CEO Mary Barra has referred to these technologies as the three pillars of future mobility, and the American giant’s activity reflects these principles.
GM Ventures is the oldest corporate venture outfit featured in our analysis. Although General Motors has made waves for a few blockbuster acquisitions, the company and its corporate VC have been investing steadily in new deals over recent years, contrasting with the rapid ramp-up among the other automakers in our analysis.
New ownership, mobility, & retail models — GM has explored alternative car ownership models both externally and in-house. The company leveraged its buyout of SideCar‘s assets to launch its own car-sharing and mobility service, dubbed Maven. Meanwhile, the GM-Cruise pairing has been testing its own autonomous ride-hailing service for employees in San Francisco with Bolt vehicles, blending its EV, AV, and ownership model strategies.
The company’s partnership with Lyft came in the form of a $500M tranche of Series F funding, which signaled the GM’s strong commitment to ride-hailing. The January 2016 deal preceded many similar investments from GM’s rivals. Though GM and Lyft are planning robotaxi trials together, Lyft has since moved towards an open autonomy platform, shaking hands with other AV players like Waymo and even crosstown GM rivals like Ford. Besides Lyft, GM has also invested in German ride-hailing company flinc.
GM’s investments in peer-to-peer car rental marketplace Turo and Chinese car-sharing app Yi Wei Xing, along with Maven’s expansion to include car rentals, also signal the company’s efforts to test different car ownership models.
Besides its principal investments through GM corporate and GM Ventures, the OEM has also tapped 500 Startups to investigate early-stage investments in the accelerator’s upcoming classes, seeking roughly 5 companies in each batch.
EVs — In January 2015, GM announced its mass market, 200-mile range, all-electric Chevy Bolt starting at $30,000. Prior to this announcement, the company led all automakers in the number of clean energy patents it held, ranging from battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids to mild hybrids and fuel-cell vehicles. GM also funded several companies in the space, including Bright Automotive (which focused on EVs), Proterra (electric buses), and Sakti3 (solid-state batteries).
AVs — GM’s self-driving activity came into the spotlight in early 2016 following its $1B acquisition of Cruise Automation (retrofit autonomous vehicles), which now operates as an independent subsidiary of GM. The move spurred a wave of subsequent AV startup investment and acquisition interest.
After the acquisition, Cruise begun retrofitting Chevy Bolts for street testing and recently announced its first mass production design. GM has also invested in autonomous data platform Nauto to further its AV strategy and gain access to larger pools of data.