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Uber as the Un-Google

by Roger Lanctot | 4月 15, 2015

This blog was originally posted on LinkedIn.  Subsequent to its publication Nokia released the following statement regarding a potential sale of HERE:

“Nokia today announced that it has initiated a review of strategic options, including a potential divestment, for its HERE business. HERE is a leader in navigation, mapping and location intelligence.
“Nokia today also announced a proposed combination with Alcatel-Lucent. The Board of Directors of Nokia believes this is the right moment to assess the position of HERE within the proposed new Nokia business.
“The strategic review of HERE is on-going and it may or may not result in any transaction. Any further announcements about HERE will be made as appropriate.”

If you had any doubt that Uber now stands at the epicenter of technology disruption, remember today’s date. Today will be remembered as the day Uber became the official stalking horse for strategic acquisition targets – most recently as a candidate to acquire Nokia’s HERE mapping division.

Not so long ago Google and Facebook were the go-to candidates for companies seeking to be acquired. Google and Facebook might be rumored to be buying a company (like automotive researcher Polk) either actually or just potentially in order to lure in a preferred acquirer (ie. IHS). Or Facebook might be suggested as a potential acquirer of a company such as Waze in order to motivate Google to step up more rapidly and with a bigger check.

Samsung was previously rumored to be interested in acquiring Nuance and Apple was previously rumored to be interested in acquiring TomTom. Samsung and Apple, however, have proven to be far more selective in their acquisitions. Apple, in particular, prefers smaller companies or startups.

So if you are a company charged with making an acquisition happen and want to pump up the price your client might receive you are least likely to use Apple or Samsung as suggested buyers. Google and Facebook might still be candidates. But Uber is seen as the rising newcomer with a glint in its eye and a check-signing pen at the ready.

That being said, the likelihood of an Uber acquisition of HERE is slender, but the rumor of such an acquisition might be sufficient to motivate a consortium of German car makers to step forward to take over HERE. German car makers, alone in the world, have promoted the NDS map protocol and have a vested interest in preserving HERE’s map making infrastructure.

Given HERE’s limited growth prospects – particularly if it were to be owned by a single car company – a consortium model is one that makes the most sense. Car makers are especially motivated to preserve HERE’s independence in a location information environment increasingly dominated by Google.

For years, car makers might have crabbed and complained about doing business with HERE or its predecessor Navteq, but the reality is that the emergence of Google in the automotive market has caused the automotive industry to rediscover HERE and embrace its location platform. Google has repeatedly demonstrated its inability to cope with or respect the technical requirements or business models of auto makers.

Could Uber acquire HERE and extend its role as the anti-Google? It’s possible. And the automotive industry might welcome that.  But Uber simply wants a base map it can use or might even decide to build its own map Waze-like. Uber has little to gain from owning its map.

Uber's acquisition of deCarta solved its immediate need for a more suitable navigation app for its drivers along with deCarta's enhanced location accuracy.  Given the fact that Uber immediately jettisoned deCarta's business development assets, it is pretty clear that Uber is not seeking a deeper engagement with the auto industry.

With a price tag of only a few billion dollars, HERE is a tantalizingly tasty treat for any acquirer with a location agenda. Microsoft and Alibaba are at the top of that list. But if HERE can convince the rest of the shoppers (like a consortium of car makers) that Uber is kicking the tires, maybe they can close a sale sooner rather than later.  Car makers won't want to see HERE "fall into the wrong hands."

As the car salesperson says: “What do I have to do to put you into a location platform of your very own?”

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