Uber is looking to divest its autonomous vehicle division, Advanced Technologies Group (ATG), and the Aurora Innovation sector startup is a likely candidate for acquisition, TechCrunch reported Friday.
Several sources informed TechCrunch that Uber has been in talks with several potential buyers including some automakers, but that negotiations with Aurora, which began in October, are well under way.
"We are not commenting on rumors or speculation," an Aurora spokesman told Business Insider, while Uber did not respond to a request for comment.
The purchase of Aurora by Amazon could be the next big step in the wave of consolidation of the autonomous car industry, according to an expert
Despite the ambitious goals, ATG has long struggled to develop a fully autonomous vehicle that can move safely and efficiently. But it has done so by losing money, which has led to speculation in recent months.
According to TechCrunch, ATG was facing the possibility that investors would consider lowering the division's valuation from 7.25 billion dollars (about 6.125 billion euros at current exchange rates).
Uber launched ATG 5 years ago, and in its short life, the division has been plagued by multiple scandals and setbacks, losing money along the way: Uber reported $303 million (?256 million) in net losses from "ATG and other technologies" in its third quarter.
Employees told Business Insider's Julie Bort that the deadly 2018 accident in Phoenix - the first incident of a freelance car killing a pedestrian - exposed failures in ATG technology as well as poor decision-making and infighting (Uber was found not responsible for the incident, while the human driver he was supervising was charged with negligent homicide).
Uber's former division chief, Anthony Levandowski, was also at the center of a major legal dispute between Uber and Google's self-driving group, now called Waymo, over the theft of the technology. In 2017 and after refusing to testify, Uber fired Levandowski, who was recently sentenced to 18 months in prison for theft of trade secrets).
In September, The Information reported that an ATG manager sent an email to Uber's CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, warning him about the shortcomings of the company's self-driving efforts. In this he said that ATG "has not been able to evolve for so long that something needs to be said before a disaster occurs.
Scandals, infighting and lack of technological progress have made investors impatient.
Bloomberg reported in September that two of Uber's biggest investors, SoftBank and Benchmark, have urged Khosrowshahi to rethink ATG's strategy and bring in more outside investment. ATG has received funds from Toyota and Denso over the last few years.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Uber has sold several of his less successful side projects, such as the Jump electric bike startup, while focusing on his core businesses of passenger transportation and food delivery.
Uber is not the only company fighting for self-driving. The industry is far from the optimistic expectations that companies and analysts created during the 2010 decade. No automaker seems to be anywhere near selling vehicles that can operate without human supervision.
Aurora is well positioned
However, Aurora, which was created in 2016 by leading members of the Uber, Google and Tesla autonomous driving programs, is on an upward trajectory.