Amazon may be preparing to make a big move into the self-driving vehicle world as the logistics giant is said to be in “advanced” talks to acquire Zoox, a stealthy developer of robotaxi technology, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Along with Amazon, other interested parties are considering offers for the Silicon Valley startup, a person familiar with the matter tells Forbes.
The purchase terms would value Zoox below its estimated market value of $3.2 billion, a level attained after its last funding round, the Journal said, citing people familiar with the matter. There’s no final agreement yet, and the timing of when a deal could happen isn’t clear, according to Forbes’ source. Some Zoox investors are hopeful the company, which seeks to build both its own fleet of robotaxis and the technology that operates them, can remain independent, the person tells Forbes.
The Foster City, California-based company said in an e-mailed statement that “as a matter of policy, Zoox doesn’t comment on rumors or speculation.” Amazon also declined to comment on the report.
“We believe $1.1 billion would be a fair price for the company, representing a 65.6% haircut from its previous post-money valuation of $3.2 billion,” said Asad Hussain, mobility analyst for Pitchbook, which tracks and values startups.
Cofounded by Australian artist and designer Tim Kentley-Klay and Stanford computer scientist Jesse Levinson in 2014, Zoox has sought to build a business of on-demand robotaxis and delivery vehicles that blend the most advanced aspects of autonomous driving tech with cutting-edge electric powertrains to serve customers in dense urban markets. Its purpose-built vehicle is designed for use in a company-branded fleet, not individual ownership, with a goal to begin operation late this year. Kentley-Klay was fired in 2018, shortly after the company announced a $500 million funding round, and was replaced as CEO in early 2019 by former Intel INTC executive Aicha Evans.
Although Zoox has raised nearly $1 billion since its founding, the company’s cost-intensive plans require significantly more capital for vehicle development and production. It’s inability to secure additional billions of dollars have likely led it to consider a potential acquisition.
“Zoox was likely to be bought by a large tech company and face a revaluation given the startup’s tenuous financial position due to its capital-intensive approach to developing self-driving technology,” Hussain said. “Acquiring Zoox should enable Amazon to expand its autonomous logistics capabilities.”
Although Amazon has made a significant investment into electric vehicle maker Rivian, committing $440 million of funding and announcing plans to buy 100,000 delivery vehicles from the startup, it’s moved more cautiously when it comes to self-driving vehicle technology.
It participated in a $530 million investment round in Aurora Innovation, another autonomous tech startup created by self-driving stars from Google GOOGL, Tesla TSLA and Uber UBER, though hasn’t announced plans to deploy Aurora’s tech.
If it were purchased for about $1 billion, that price would would put Zoox “at a similar valuation to those of the largest independent self-driving trucking companies, a logical comparison given Amazon’s focus on logistics,” Hussain said. Those include TuSimple, valued at $1.2 billion after its Series D round in September 2019, and PlusAI, which is currently valued at $1 billion, according to Pitchbook.
By: Alan Ohnsman
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