(Reuters) – Nokia‘s maps business has drawn interest from potential buyers including Facebook and a consortium of German carmakers made up of BMW, Audi and Daimler, a German magazine reported on Wednesday.
Citing people familiar with the matter, Manager Magazin also confirmed an earlier report that online taxi service Uber is looking at the books of HERE, Nokia’s mapping unit, and that U.S. private equity firm Hellman & Friedman was also interested.
According to Manager Magazin, the book value of the unit is 2 billion euros ($2.15 billion). A brokerage estimate by Inderes Equity Research values HERE at 4.4 billion to 6.9 billion euros, based on a sum-of-parts calculation.
Nokia, BMW, Daimler, Facebook and Uber declined to comment on the report. Audi and San Francisco-based Hellman & Friedman were not immediately available for comment.
Finland’s Nokia said last week it had started a strategic review of its Berlin-based HERE unit after announcing a 15.6 billion euro takeover of network equipment rival Alcatel-Lucent .
“I want to be very clear: if we are to sell this business, we are not a forced seller,” NokiaChief Executive Rajeev Suri told a news conference last Friday.
Separately, Continental AG, one of the world’s biggest auto parts makers and a partner of Nokia’s HERE in vehicle navigation systems, declined to comment on whether it might make a takeover bid.
Juergen Pieper, an analyst with Frankfurt-based Bankhaus Metzler, said a three-way bidding alliance of Germany’s big automakers could make sense: “Luxury automakers are stepping up efforts to fetch back activities related to digitisation they previously had assigned to suppliers,” he said.
Access to high-quality maps is essential for carmakers seeking to build autonomous cars, which need detailed location data about their wider surroundings to complement input from on-board sensors to avoid obstacles and other vehicles.
Such navigation and safety features are a pre-condition for the eventual emergence of driverless vehicles in coming years.
The Finnish company built its mapping and location business on the back of an $8.1 billion acquisition in 2008 of U.S-based Navteq, a maker of geographic information systems used in the automotive industry. It was Nokia’s largest deal ever, prior to the planned Alcatel-Lucent merger.
Nokia saw adding maps to its phones as a way to differentiate its products from other high-end phone makers, including Apple, which the previous year had revolutionised the market with the launch of the iPhone.
The HERE unit, one of Nokia’s three remaining businesses after the sale of its handsets unit, has in recent years refocused to supply maps to carmakers, which accounted for more than half of HERE sales in 2013.
HERE also supplies online maps to major Internet companies including Amazon.com, Baidu, Microsoft , Samsung Electronics, Yahoo and for use in mobile and computer online mapping applications.
A push by Google, which introduced a fully functioning prototype of a driverless car last year after working on the project for a decade, has put the race to build connected cars into high gear. Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi all have prototype autonomous cars, as do many other big carmakers.
Embedded navigation features in new cars are expected to built into more than a third of new cars produced in 2020, up from around 20 percent of vehicles in 2013, according to estimates from Nokia and third-party research data. ($1 = 0.9293 euros) (Additional reporting by Andreas Cremer in Berlin, Irene Preisinger in Munich, Ilona Wissenbach in Stuttgart, Jan Schwartz in Hamburg, Maria Sheahan, Georgina Prodhan and Arno Schuetze in Frankfurt and Jussi Rosendahl in Helsinki; Writing by Eric Auchard; Editing byKeith Weir)