In the area of autonomous driving, consolidation is progressing, with the most recent advancement coming from Europe. Bosch said today that it will acquire Five.ai, a self-driving startup that began with grand plans to build and manage its own fleet of robotaxis before deciding to focus on technology development as a B2B play. The businesses did not disclose the agreement’s financial details, but five has been seeking for a buyer, and Bosch claimed it won the contract by beating off “other takeover candidates.” It will acquire not just Five’s intellectual property, but also 140 staff in the United Kingdom. The transaction is still awaiting permission from regulators, notably antitrust authorities, according to Bosch. The closing process might take up to two months.
Five had collected roughly $78 million in capital and was valued at $216 million in its most recent round, a $41 million investment in March 2020 that corresponded with the company’s B2B transition, according to PitchBook statistics. The insurance behemoth Direct Line, the UK government, and venture capital firms like Notion and Lakestar were among Five’s strategic and financial sponsors… But there’s also Sistema, the Russian investment behemoth that’s listed in London and has been hurting as a result of the sanctions in its home country: it recently said it might have to de-list from the LSE due to a law that Russia appears ready to pass requiring Russian companies to end their foreign depository programs.
When asked about Sistema’s minority position in five, a spokeswoman responded, “Bosch plans to purchase all of the shares in five, and we are of course complying and will continue to comply with all legal and legislative obligations, including consequences.” According to our understanding, if compelled by penalties, Bosch would place cash in a holding account. Bosch has been a long-time proponent of self-driving car technology, though, like many others, its stated ambitions — the company is a major OEM and supplier to the automotive industry, and it forged a partnership with Daimler in 2017 that promised fully autonomous vehicles in five years (which would be… 2022) — have been surpassed by self-driving reality. That was a difficult realization for five as well.
“We believed we’d probably create the complete thing and take it to market as a whole system a year and a half ago,” co-founder and CEO Stan Boland told me in 2020. “However, as time went on, we realized exactly how deep and difficult that would be.” We probably recognized in 2019 that focusing on the main parts was the best course of action.” Overall, Five has been very quiet in recent months: it last updated its news feed in January 2021, more than a year ago, with a collaboration with another autonomous tech business, Cognata; and its last Medium blog post, on agile working, was in June 2021.
Bosch, like five, has been a highly active player in the software business, particularly as it pertains to autonomous systems and other next-generation software and hardware, but it has also been investing in autonomous car firms, since it is one of Momenta’s key sponsors in China. “Automated driving is expected to improve road safety. Dr. Markus Heyn, member of the Bosch board of management and chairman of the Mobility Solutions business area, adds, “We want Five to give an extra push to our efforts in software development for safe autonomous driving, and offer our customers European-made technology.” Five will be part of the Bosch Cross-Domain Computing Solutions company, with headquarters in Cambridge, United Kingdom.
“When it comes to developing autonomous driving technologies, size counts. Bosch is a global pioneer in driving assistance technology, with fundamental technologies and enormous data lakes that will be critical in the development of safe self-driving systems. “We’re pleased for five to join Europe’s most powerful SAE Level 4 player and to contribute to Bosch’s future success,” Stan Boland said in a statement released today. Magna is purchasing the assets of Optimus Ride; GM is buying out SoftBank’s share in Cruise; VW is apparently attempting to buy out Huawei’s autonomous driving business; Lidar specialist Luminar is buying Freedom Photonics, and more are among the M&A deals in the autonomous car space.