Since its founding six years ago, self-driving startup Zoox has devoted its efforts exclusively to creating a brand-new, bespoke people mover. But amid the current pandemic, the company has explored the possibility of using its prototypes for package deliveries.
"This gave us the opportunity to think about moving beyond people," CEO Aicha Evans said Tuesday. "In times of an emergency like this, we're helping the health sector, and cities and states, do essential services. We see this as an opportunity."
Whether the exploration remains a short-term anomaly or evolves into part of the company's overall strategy might hinge on the fate of Zoox itself.
Evans did not address reports of a prospective sale during an appearance Tuesday at the virtual EcoMotion mobility technology conference. But in recent weeks, multiple news outlets have reported the company has explored the possibility.
Given the capital-intensive challenges of developing self-driving technology and a car platform simultaneously and the possibility that funding is constrained amid COVID-19 disruptions, Zoox may be primed for a sale, according to Asad Hussain, mobility analyst at PitchBook.
"We believe Zoox is likely to face a significant downward revaluation in the near term," he said in a research report. "For investors [who] bought into Zoox's ambitious vision, this could mark an attractive entry point. Potential buyers in the space could include Amazon and Apple, as both companies have large war chests, strategic interests in the future of transportation, and haven't been as adversely affected by the downturn as the automakers."
Evans made an oblique reference to the possibility of a sale. "In a crisis, bad companies go away, good companies survive, and great companies thrive," she said. "It has given us the opportunity to focus on what we want to do from a partnership standpoint, and we feel good about where we are, articles not withstanding."
Zoox has suspended its on-road testing during the pandemic, but Evans said the stoppage has allowed software engineers to accelerate the company's simulation testing. Still, Evans said she's looking forward to returning to the office after California's stay-at-home order ends.
"I'm not a great work-from-home leader," she said. "I miss the buzz of the office. The first thing I'll do is walk around and say hello to everyone. But trust me, I'm a lot more open, and my work-from-home policy will be a lot more relaxed."