Amazon buys self-driving car startup Zoox for over US$1 bil

WASHINGTON: Amazon said Friday it was buying the self-driving car tech , in an effort to rev up the drive for autonomous ride-hailing and compete against rivals like former Google car unit Waymo.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but a report in The Information said Amazon was paying more than US$1 billion for the California startup developing autonomous technology.

“Zoox is working to imagine, invent and design a world-class autonomous ride-hailing experience,” said Jeff Wilke, who heads Amazon Worldwide Consumer.

“Like Amazon, Zoox is passionate about innovation and about its customers, and we’re excited to help the talented Zoox team to bring their vision to reality in the years ahead.”

The companies said Zoox CEO Aicha Evans and chief technology officer Jesse Levinson would keep their roles at Zoox “as a standalone business as they innovate and drive towards their mission.”

“This acquisition solidifies Zoox’s impact on the autonomous driving industry,” said Aicha Evans, CEO of Zoox.

“We have made great strides with our purpose-built approach to safe, autonomous mobility, and our exceptionally talented team working every day to realise that vision. We now have an even greater opportunity to realise a fully autonomous future.”

Evans, a Senegal native, was named CEO in January 2019 of Zoox, which had raised more than US$750 million and has some 1,000 employees.

A good fit

Technology analyst Richard Windsor said on his Radio Free Mobile blog that Zoox is “a good fit for Amazon” and “has one of the better autonomous driving offerings but is currently suffering from its inability to forecast market readiness and demand for its product”.

Windsor said Amazon and Zoox “will compete with robotaxi offerings from Waymo, Cruise, Uber and Mobileye rather than the other companies who plan to offer autonomous solutions for everyday vehicles.”

The analyst added that Amazon is also likely to use Zoox “to automate the last mile of its distribution network and make a vast cost saving.”

The reported transaction is far below Zoox’s valuation of some UUS$3.2 billion estimated last year by the research firm CB Insights.

Amazon’s move comes in the midst of a pandemic-induced economic slump which has strengthened some of the major tech firms and has led to increased antitrust scrutiny.

It comes with lawmakers poised to call Big Tech CEOs to testify about their dominance and with antitrust enforcers stepping up probes in the US and European Union.

Amazon, which is the largest e-commerce operator and a major player in cloud computing and streaming media, has been ramping up its own logistics network in recent years with planes, drones and delivery vehicles.

It plans to deploy more than 100,000 electric delivery vans in the coming years.

Waymo, a unit of Google parent Alphabet, has begun deploying fully autonomous rides to a small number of users. But analysts say wide deployment may take several years.

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