TOKYO — Japanese tech conglomerate SoftBank upped its position in global automotive earlier this week with a $2.25 billion investment in General Motors' autonomous vehicle business.
That raises a question that has been asked more than once recently in auto circles: Who is SoftBank and why is it buying into the car business?
The outlay hands SoftBank a hefty 20 percent stake in GM's Cruise Automation venture and follows a string of other SoftBank investments in the hot race to self-driving cars.
Through its SoftBank Vision Fund, SoftBank also has invested in chipmaker Nvidia Corp., a key supplier of autonomous technology, and in the ride-hailing giant Uber Inc., a company with visions of robovehicles. SoftBank is Uber's largest shareholder, with a 15 percent stake.
The fund also has invested in the European used-car startup Auto1, and in Mapbox, a mapping platform for website and mobile app developers.
The fund is the long-term incubator arm of SoftBank Group Corp., a global holding company with tentacles in everything from telecommunications to microprocessors.
The fund's mission: Cherry pick top contenders in the high-tech world that will "enable the next age of innovation."
In addition to transportation, its target sectors include such futuristic endeavors as artificial intelligence, robotics, big data businesses, financial technology and even a field called "computational biology."
SoftBank's founder is Masayoshi Son, 60, an entrepreneur and self-made billionaire whom Steve Jobs helped take into new realms of telecommunications back in the day when Japanese consumers were still content using Internet-capable flip phones.
The Apple boss gave Son exclusive rights to sell the newly introduced Apple iPhone in Japan, starting in 2008.