SoftBank, Other Investors in Talks to Invest $1 Billion in Uber’s Self-Driving Unit

Date: March 14, 2019
Source: Wall Street Journal
A consortium that includes SoftBank Group is in late-stage talks to invest $1 billion or more in Uber Technologies Inc.’s self-driving vehicle unit, according to people familiar with the negotiations, a move that would help the ride-hailing firm make its pitch to investors ahead of its eagerly anticipated IPO.
Under terms being discussed, SoftBank’s Vision Fund and other investors, including at least one unnamed auto maker, would take a minority stake in the unit at a valuation of between $5 billion and $10 billion, the people said. The talks are fluid and could still fall apart, these people warned. Should a deal materialize, it could surface next month.
For Uber, the arrangement would provide much-needed cash for an ambitious and costly venture; it would lighten its future funding obligations, while enabling it to maintain control of the unit. In 2017, Uber spent about $750 million on self-driving development before making cuts in 2018, according to people familiar with the matter.
Bringing in auto companies as investors would help the Uber unit with the enormous task of developing the technology required to make self-driving taxis a reality. It is an increasingly crowded field. Both Alphabet Inc., through its Waymo division, and General Motors Co., through GM Cruise, have made significant investments in self-driving cars. SoftBank’s giant Vision Fund holds a nearly 20 percent stake in the GM venture following a $2.2 billion investment.
Uber is aiming for an initial public offering that could come in May or June and value the startup at as much as $120 billion, according to bankers. The company is eager to get an autonomous-driving deal in place so it can tout the unit’s value and growth prospects to prospective investors in the company, the people said.
Investors, wary of the division’s steep losses, have pushed Uber Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi to either spin it off or seek outside investment. Khosrowshahi has indicated he fully backs developing self-driving vehicles, despite the expense. With the possible new investment, executives in the unit would continue reporting to Khosrowshahi, the people said.
Uber has struck other investment deals that double as strategic partnerships and are aimed at lowering development costs and containing losses in its autonomous-vehicle unit. Last year, Toyota Motor Corp. announced plans to invest about $500 million in Uber as part of an agreement to work jointly on self-driving cars. Toyota’s investment valued Uber at about $72 billion.
Highlighting the challenges of developing an autonomous franchise, one of Uber’s self-driving cars struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Ariz., last year. Months later, Uber closed its Arizona autonomous-vehicle operations and took its self-driving vehicles off the roads in the San Francisco Bay Area, Pittsburgh and Toronto while investigators looked into the circumstances of the Arizona crash. Late last year, Uber put vehicles back into service.
Next week, the company will formally kick off its IPO process by holding a so-called organizational meeting in San Francisco, where it will walk through the details of its planned offering with its bankers and lawyers. Uber will also hold its analyst day next week, with executives selling the company’s story to Wall Street analysts who will create models to help potential investors value the company.
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