Good-bye Google: EU-Japanese dynamic mapping partnership emerges

Edzard Overbeek of HERE with Isao Iguchi and Shoji Tanaka of Mitsubishi Electric (c) Bertel Schmitt

Rumors of Germany’s digital mapping giant HERE seeking an intimate relationship with Japan’s Dynamic Map Platform Co.  have been thick for about a year. Today, the romancing couple did not quite go all the way, but it definitely went to second base. Meanwhile, Google’s importance in the automotive space shrinks to wallflower format.

In a small meeting room at Tokyo’s Daiba Hilton, Edzard Overbeek, CEO of HERE, and Isao Iguchi, Senior Vice President of Mitsubishi Electric, shook hands for the cameramen, and announced their “intention to link their technologies for autonomous vehicles into a powerful integrated offering for automakers.” Mitsubishi Electric is a prominent DMP shareholder.

Ostensibly, the partnership with Mitsubishi Electric is only about Mitsu’s high-definition locator, a gadget that will provide location info with centimeter accuracy through Mitsubishi’s quasi-zenith satellite system. However, it quickly became clear that there will be more. “This has multiple dimensions, and we are only announcing the first steps today,” Overbeek admitted.

The centerpiece of the connected and autonomous car will be a dynamic map, “seconds fresh” as Overbeek said, precise up to a few inches, and containing far more data than a Google map: Is an on-street parking spot becoming available? Has the speed limit changed? Will it rain in 10 minutes? Is there a free bay in a charging station? Ice on the road? School bus? Accident? Pothole?

Who will produce these maps? Our cars will. Any car attempting to be halfway autonomous needs a sensor suite that goes far beyond Google’s streetview car. Connected to the cloud, millions of these sensor-studded cars will produce dynamic maps as up-to-date as what is seen by the cars in front of us.

However, the cars won’t produce the dynamic maps for Google. Automakers around the world have walled themselves off against the data-leeching Californian company, and they band together to create their own dynamic map. Their radars, lidars, and cameras survey our roads 24/7. Their cars create traffic jam alerts when brake lights go on en masse. Potholes are sensed through their cars’ damping systems. Google would need access to the car’s sensor suite to produce these dynamic maps, and OEMs won’t let them.

Soaking up and managing the “zettabytes of data” (Overbeek) is a job too enormous even for the biggest automakers in the world. Realizing this, the OEMs unite.

HERE used to be the mapping arm of Nokia. In 2015, it was sold to a consortium of German auto manufacturers Audi, BMW, and Mercedes, and it did well. “We are the largest mapmaking company in the world, and we are in about four out of five vehicles with embedded navigation,” Overbeek told me.  

Google blew the world’s largest automarket, China. HERE has a strategic partnership with China’s Navinfo. (A Chinese group wanted to buy 10% of HERE. The U.S. government blocked it – which underscores the strategic importance.)  

The Japanese counterpart to HERE is Dynamic Map Platform Co. (DMP). Started with a generous investment by the Japanese government (via its state-run venture capital arm Innovation Network Corporation of Japan) DMP is a consortium of Japanese mapping companies, and most importantly of all Japanese carmakers.

After the government, Mitsubishi Electric is the largest shareholder of DMP, and through the new partnership, HERE has a foot in the door.

Actually, it is its second foot: In June, HERE formed a partnership with Increment P Corporation (IPC), a mapping subsidiary of global car electronics company Pioneer, which is also a major Dynamic Map Platform Co shareholder.

“We will do more partnerships in Japan,” Overbeek told me today. “We are actively having conversations with DMP, it is up to them now.”

HERE is open to all partnerships that make sense, Overbeek said. The only company they won’t partner with is Google. “Google is Google,” Overbeek said with a dismissive wave.