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German Carmakers Gobbled Up Nokia Maps So No One Else Would Take It

"We simply wanted to protect that company," says a member of BMW's management board.


The trio of German carmakers that now own Here Maps essentially confirmed Tuesday that they made the $3 billion purchase, in part, because they couldn’t afford to see such a precious asset fall into other hands. What if Uber or Apple bought it and cut off their access? It was a purchase not for profit, but for security.

“We simply wanted to protect that company,” said Klaus Fröhlich, a member of BMW Group’s management board.

In addition, the three companies — BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz — sought to avoid getting into bed with Google, knowing that the search giant wanted all kinds of personal information in exchange for access to its maps.

“​We do not want [to do business with] companies who do not accept the privacy of our customers and want to bring their information into their ecosystem,” Fröhlich said.

By owning Here together, the companies protect their access.

Mapping, already important for drivers, becomes even more important as we approach the age of self-driving cars, which rely on details including speed limits, lane changes and the like.

Although the three share joint ownership of Here, they stressed that they are open to others taking an ownership stake — both from within and outside of the automotive industry. They’re happy to share, as long as they retain access. Microsoft and Amazon already make heavy use of Here’s maps, and the carmakers say they want the next generation of Here maps to serve even more industries.

Executives from BMW, Daimler and Audi were in San Francisco Tuesday to reassure Silicon Valley that the product will continue to serve its existing customers. The consortium has set up an advisory board that includes outsiders to ensure its owners don’t have undue influence on Here’s technical direction.

In perhaps the biggest move it has made since the deal closed last week, Here said it is studying whether to start collecting anonymous data from sensors within passenger vehicles and using that data to improve its maps.

Fröhlich stressed that Here is taking a far different approach from Google’s, promising that the data from the car won’t be tied to any individual. Plus, the carmakers say Google, in private negotiations with car companies, is saying that it may ask for more data down the road from cars that use its maps — something Porsche has complained about publicly. So far, the American car-buying public hasn’t shown much concern about this, but Fröhlich says over time, the more private German approach will make Here stand out.

“This German approach about privacy, which sounds a bit naïve or old-fashioned, I think it will have a revival worldwide,” Fröhlich said.

The data collected in this way will allow for a far greater degree of precision, like down to the inch, in order to help spur the growth of self-driving cars.

How would sensor data improve maps? Fröhlich gave a concrete example: If a lot of cars are braking at the same time, this would alert the mapping system of an issue. Other cars headed toward that area could be prompted to take a picture so that the system would know just what hazard is ahead — for example, a slippery road or an accident. None of that, Fröhlich said, requires the map system to know or care who is driving.

Fröhlich said he also wants to see Here continue to provide maps to other industries, including for smartphones, noting that such data could improve the overall maps and the in-car experience.

“We are interested that Here is a platform for a lot of verticals, not only the automotive consumer,” he said.

They are also open to new ways that consumers can connect their phones to cars, but that is a tricky balance, Fröhlich said.

“We do not want to empty our head unit and make the car an IoT device which belongs to (Apple or Google),” he said, echoing sentiments expressed earlier this year by Ford CEO Mark Fields.

“We do not have much time to waste,” Fröhlich said. “We need this new generation of maps as soon as possible. We are prepared to invest to see gold.”

The new generation of high-definition maps are at least a couple years away, though, as the company is currently conducting demonstrations, using test roads, to show customers what it is capable of delivering. Real-world mapping will likely start with highways and expand from there.

This article originally appeared on

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