By William Boston
BERLIN — Germany’s premium car makers Audi AG /zigman2/quotes/207972355/delayed DE:NSU +0.63% , BMW AG /zigman2/quotes/209548467/delayed DE:BMW +0.71% and Daimler AG /zigman2/quotes/205332368/delayed DE:DAI +1.05% , which owns Mercedes-Benz, are in talks with Amazon.com Inc. /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN +3.84% and Microsoft Corp. /zigman2/quotes/207732364/composite MSFT +1.21% that could lead to the tech giants taking minority stakes in the HERE digital mapping service, a senior Daimler executive said.
The three auto makers, which make the world’s leading premium car brands, acquired the Berlin-based digital mapping service HERE from Nokia Corp. /zigman2/quotes/207421390/composite NOK -0.63% last year for €2.5 billion ($2.85 billion) as part of a bold plan to build a platform for self-driving cars connected to the Internet.
Soon after taking control of HERE, the car makers began approaching tech firms and other auto makers about joining the venture as strategic investors.
“We are talking to Amazon, Microsoft and many auto makers,” Thomas Weber, a Daimler board member in charge of research and development, said in an interview late Tuesday. “We need a cloud provider to handle the huge amounts of data created by HERE and its users. We haven’t taken any decisions yet.”
Should a deal be concluded, which isn’t certain, it would be a major step in creating a global platform for connected cars that links the engineering prowess of some of the industry’s top auto makers and information technology know-how of Silicon Valley.
Amazon and Microsoft could be natural allies for HERE as both compete against Google in information services. German auto makers have been wary of allowing Alphabet’s /zigman2/quotes/205453964/composite GOOG +1.42% /zigman2/quotes/202490156/composite GOOGL +1.10% Google to get too deep inside their vehicles, fearing that they could lose control of data produced by the car and its users and sacrifice potential profits.
“We’ve always said that we wanted to protect our independence,” Weber said.
Weber said talks were still at an early stage and that a decision about opening the digital mapping service to new investors would likely be taken sometime this year.
HERE’s other investors -- Audi and BMW -- acknowledged talks with a variety of potential investors but declined to comment on specifics.
Max-Morten Borgmann, a spokesman for BMW, said HERE’s consortium of investors always made clear they were interested in bringing in additional partners and that they wanted to reduce their own investment in the company.
“We have determined that there is a lot of interest in this, not only from potential partners in the automobile industry but also from interested parties in other industries,” he said in an emailed statement, declining to elaborate.
Amazon wasn’t immediately available for comment.
HERE and Microsoft declined to comment.
HERE is developing a high-definition, real-time map that is seen as a key component to wide deployment of self-driving cars and connecting individual vehicles to each other and the Internet.
HERE is more than a conventional route-finding or navigation service. The company is creating a high-definition, 3-D digital representation of roads, highways and their surroundings that is constantly updated as cars connected to the service upload data about traffic, weather and road conditions to the cloud in real time. That information then becomes available in real time for other drivers.
Cars traveling in winter, for example, could provide information about temperature and road conditions that could be shared through the cloud with drivers coming up behind them, potentially improving road safety. The service could also alert drivers to sudden changes on the road, such as new construction or even accidents that a static route-finding map wouldn’t contain.
The ability to provide information about changing traffic and road conditions in real-time is seen as a necessary step to develop self-driving cars.
Amazon and or Microsoft could enhance HERE’s service by providing cloud services and big data analytics, needed to process the huge amounts of data and transform that data into a basis for profitable data-based services.
Weber said HERE’s owners are also eager to have more car makers on board as a way of enhancing the accuracy of HERE’s service. The more cars uploading data to HERE’s cloud, the more accurate HERE’s location services become. That is why HERE wants to have more big auto manufacturers locked in as investors to increase the number of cars on the road that feed data to its cloud.
“In the future, we don’t only want to utilize data that HERE produces, but also data that is created by customers,” Weber said.
Earlier this year, Renault SA /zigman2/quotes/200919924/delayed FR:RNO +2.66% , the French car maker, and auto supplier Continental AG /zigman2/quotes/202192628/delayed DE:CON +0.77% said they were considering joining HERE as strategic investors. Continental’s rival Robert Bosch GmbH formed a strategic partnership with HERE competitor TomTom NV /zigman2/quotes/203605238/delayed NL:TOM2 -1.92% , the Dutch mapping service considered No. 3 after HERE and Google Maps.