Audi, BMW and Daimler were bound to raise eyebrows around the auto industry by teaming up to buy Here, the dominant supplier of digital maps for in-car navigation.
So the Germans are sending a message to their competitors: Don't fear us. Join us.
The $3.1 billion acquisition of the Nokia subsidiary, announced Monday, Aug. 3, was mainly a defensive move. Audi, BMW and Daimler sought to keep Here from falling into the hands of a Silicon Valley company such as Apple or Uber that wouldn't share their vision.
Yet other automakers might have had reason to worry that the new owners could use their control of Here's maps to freeze out their competitors.
To defuse that fear, the German trio is now inviting other car companies to join their consortium, sources say, and share in the development costs and benefits as cars become more automated and connected through maps.
"Maps are a common denominator for everyone," Thilo Koslowski, an analyst at Gartner Inc. in Santa Clara, Calif., said in an interview. "It doesn't make sense for every company to do it themselves. But everyone can benefit from it. ... I believe this deal could ultimately accelerate the realization of self-driving cars by a couple of years."
Everyone working on self-driving cars, from Mercedes-Benz to Google, sees maps as critical. Sensors have limitations, and detailed three-dimensional maps of the world, charting the path of lanes and the position of objects such as fire hydrants and streetlights, make it far easier to follow the rules of the road and avoid crashes.
Here has worked closely with the German automakers on their experimental cars. In 2013, when Mercedes trained an S500 sedan to drive 62 miles from Mannheim to Pforzheim, Germany, to show its progress, it followed a route pre-mapped by Here.