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By Marc Vartabedian
This article is being republished as part of our daily reproduction of WSJ.com articles that also appeared in the U.S. print edition of The Wall Street Journal (December 12, 2019).
Porsche Automobil Holding SE has acquired a minority stake in Silicon Valley self-driving sensor startup Aeva Inc., the latest in a flurry of moves by the auto manufacturing holding company in the autonomous driving sector this year.
As part of the equity deal, Porsche SE, which houses auto makers such as Volkswagen AG, Porsche AG and Audi AG, will partner with Aeva in hopes of putting its lidar sensors on Volkswagen ID Buzz buses to create autonomous taxis, according to Aeva co-founder and Chief Executive Soroush Salehian.
Aeva, which puts sensor components on small chips, aims to reduce the size and cost of roof rack-style lidar sensors, which help cars drive autonomously by bouncing lasers off objects to create a 3-D view of the world.
The technology's integration with the Buzz buses, updated electric throwbacks to VW's iconic vans, is expected to launch sometime in the next several years, said Alex Hitzinger, senior vice president of autonomous driving at Volkswagen Group and CEO of VW Autonomy, an autonomous development spinoff unit VW created in October.
The deal highlights legacy auto makers' appetite for partnering with startups developing self-driving software and hardware. Earlier this month, Volvo Group through its venture-capital division invested in Apex.AI Inc., a Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup developing autonomous vehicle operating systems.
Mountain View, Calif.-based Aeva was founded in 2017 by former Apple Inc. engineers Mr. Salehian and Mina Rezk. Earlier this year, the company partnered with a unit owned by Audi that is building self-driving technology for Volkswagen.
The undisclosed amount invested in Aeva is Porsche SE's first in lidar technology and caps a year of reshuffling of its self-driving ambitions.
In June, VW ended a partnership with Aurora Innovation Inc., a Silicon Valley self-driving startup that raised more than $530 million in February, roughly a year-and-a-half after the pair announced their tie-up. Then in October, three months after it said it would invest $2.6 billion in Pittsburgh-based Argo AI LLC, VW said it was spinning off its own startup dedicated to developing autonomous technology.
Meanwhile, Porsche in August paid an undisclosed amount to acquire a minority stake in Israeli startup TriEye Technologies Ltd., which develops autonomous sensor technology. Mr. Hitzinger said self-driving research efforts in that partnership potentially could be combined with those in VW's autonomous unit.
"It may look like many moves, but really they are interconnected and part of one strategy," Mr. Hitzinger said. The moves concentrates VW Group's strategy for developing a self-driving system, Mr. Hitzinger added.
Aeva plays a key role in that effort, Mr. Hitzinger said, because of its ability to shrink the size and cost of lidar sensors.
Aeva's chip-based sensors will cost under $500 when they are mass-produced, a fraction of the cost of other systems, Mr. Salehian said.
Prior to Porsche SE's investment, Aeva raised $45 million in venture funding in a deal last year led by Lux Capital and Canaan Partners.
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(END) Dow Jones Newswires
December 12, 2019 02:47 ET (07:47 GMT)
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