Delphi Acquires Self-Driving Car Startup NuTonomy

The automotive supplier is getting more serious about autonomous driving.

First Driverless Car In Boston
Boston Globe—Boston Globe via Getty Images

Delphi announced plans acquire Boston-based self-driving car startup NuTonomy, a move that will help further the automotive supplier's own autonomous-driving efforts. Delphi will pay an upfront purchase price of $400 million, as well as earn-outs of approximately $50 million, the company said.

Founded in 2013, NuTonomy is best known for starting a pilot autonomous taxi service in Singapore. In June, the startup announced a partnership with Lyft that was supposed to include a pilot program for autonomous ride sharing in Boston, where NuTonomy already tests self-driving cars that don't pick up passengers. It's unclear whether those plans will be affected by the Delphi acquisition.

Delphi itself is no stranger to self-driving cars. It's part of the BMW-Intel-Mobileye autonomous-driving coalition, and has discussed plans to bring self-driving taxis to the United States. Like NuTonomy, it's currently testing self-driving cars in both Boston and Singapore. By combining its resources with NuTonomy's, Delphi hopes to have 60 autonomous cars on the road around the world by year's end.

Delphi's acquisition of NuTonomy is another example of the game of self-driving car musical chairs that saw Intel acquire Mobileye last year, and various players shuffle themselves into an increasingly-complex array of alliances and partnerships. But where will it all lead?

NuTonomy and Delphi are both developing the hardware and software for self-driving cars, but neither company has the capability to manufacture vehicles. NuTonomy has an existing relationship with PSA Peugeot Citro├źn that may be leveraged in the future, although it's unclear how that would affect the U.S. market. Delphi's existing ties to BMW through the Intel-curated autonomous-driving alliance may be the best bet.

NuTonomy's partnership with Lyft could also provide a valuable outlet for commercializing the technology. However, given Lyft's ties to Google, a second startup called Drive.ai, and the fact that the ride-sharing company now has its own self-driving car development program, it's unclear what will become of the Autonomy partnership.

Buying NuTonomy gives Delphi more resources to throw at autonomous-car development, but it doesn't give the company a clear way to make money off the technology. Delphi will need another partnership to make that happen.