What's going on?
German auto parts supplier ZF Friedrichshafen agreed on Thursday to buy Wabco for $7 billion, hitching up the American firm’s safety tech in the race for the future of autonomous trucks.
What does this mean?
The auto industry is regearing for a world dominated by self-driving vehicles – and trucks are in pole position. 150-year-old Wabco, which makes driver-assist sensor, electronic braking and stability systems, has partnered with ZF on steering tech before; now, the two are merging lanes altogether in order to better compete with both old rivals and new challengers coming down the pike. Deep-pocketed startups like Alphabet’s Waymo and Uber are racing to develop their own driverless technology – and Tesla hopes to begin producing a semi-autonomous truck later this year.
ZF, the world’s fifth-biggest supplier of auto parts, has been busy bulking up recently. It bolted on US rival TRW for $14 billion in 2015, and just last week announced a deal for a majority stake in Dutch autonomous minibus company 2getthere. ZF’s future path could be lucrative: from just $3 billion in 2015, the self-driving market is expected to be worth $290 billion by 2035 (tweet this).
Why should I care?
The bigger picture: Robots are just a few lessons away from passing their driving test.
While debate rages about how long it’ll be until your Uber cab shows up without a driver (“10 minutes” is, as ever, wildly optimistic), autonomous trucks are already here – at least in controlled environments like iron ore mines. Chinese-American firm TuSimple is currently holding live tests on US roads, and hopes to be hauling freight for real by 2020. And ZF itself plans to start production of an automated shuttle bus this year.
For markets: Wabco – not so fast.
Unusually for a company being bought, Wabco’s shares actually fell by 10% on Thursday. That’s because they’d revved up at the end of February when takeover talks were first reported – and investors had got a little ahead of themselves when it came to the takeover price.