Navigant Research Blog

Automotive Mapping: A New Digital World

Lisa Jerram — September 15, 2015

German automakers Audi, BMW, and Daimler have announced plans to acquire Nokia’s mapping service HERE in a move that seems part of the continued blending of the automotive and digital worlds. HERE is one of a handful of companies that supplies mapping data to a wide range of end users, competing with Google Maps and TomTom. HERE’s strengths lie in the automotive sector, as its service is the most often used in vehicle navigation systems.

It may be that the automakers simply want to secure the availability of this mapping service to ensure that Google Maps won’t be the only game in town. The same could be said for another interested party in the HERE sale: Uber, which has recently acquired mapping expertise and intellectual property from Microsoft. This was seen as partly a defensive move. It appears that Uber is trying to position itself away from Google, which has been signaling through its investment through Google Ventures a desire to launch its own ride hailing app that could compete with Uber. But Uber has also expressed an interest in autonomous vehicle technologies, declaring to Tesla that it would be prepared to buy a fleet of autonomous electric vehicles. As Navigant Research has discussed, high-quality mapping is critical to the autonomous vehicle sector.

Meanwhile, Apple has continued to make moves that suggest it may launch an electric vehicle of its own. After reports in early 2015 hinted that the company was building an electric van, speculation have only increased when the company moved to hire a former quality control executive from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and to use BMW’s i3 electric vehicles in a trial project.

Blurred Lines

This brings us back to the story of Audi, BMW, and Daimler acquiring HERE. All of these activities demonstrate that the digital and physical worlds are now fully integrated within auto manufacturing, and that the lines between these industries will continue to blur. Auto companies are now well-established in Silicon Valley, and it is apparent to the OEMs that they will have to be more than just car manufacturers in the future, but also mobility providers. German automakers are especially far along in this realization. BMW, for example, has its own smart parking app and carsharing business. Indeed, most automakers are exploring some of these new mobility concepts. Ford’s 25 global mobility experiments include vehicle sharing, carsharing, and smart parking services, while Toyota has its electric vehicle carsharing trial programs. Other OEMs are also launching carsharing services, developments that will be discussed in Navigant Research’s upcoming Carsharing Programs report.

Acquiring mapping expertise plays into the shift from automakers to total mobility providers. What will be interesting to watch is how daring the auto companies are prepared to be in making this transition. So far, much of the OEM activity is labeled as a trial, indicating that some OEMs are still unsure about the real value of these new services. Indeed, some of the services may well be low revenue generators, but they can help automakers stake out their role in the new urban mobility landscape. This is especially the case in the mature and highly regulated car markets of North America and Western Europe, where private cars will be just one more mobility tool among many.

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