For the past few years, Crunchbase News has been tracking startup investment by major automakers. And each time we check in, we see that spending is going strong.
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This most recent time, the broad narrative stayed the same: Automakers are still betting heavily on startups, recently more than ever. From next-generation batteries to autonomous driving technology to electric aircraft, automakers led private funding rounds collectively valued at over $9.6 billion, according to a Crunchbase analysis of deals closed since the beginning of 2020.
Overall, the big auto brands participated in at least 100 known funding rounds since last year, including both lead and non-lead rounds. They also generated some big returns on existing portfolio companies, largely through SPAC offerings, a trend we’ll explore in a follow-up piece. Below, we look at where carmakers have been putting their money, focusing on big rounds and most active investors.
Most active investors
By round count, Volkswagen is the most active automaker investor in startups since 2000. The company, which also owns the Porsche brand (which invests out of its Porsche Ventures fund) participated in 24 deals, including nine in which it took a lead role.
Batteries were the biggest line item for the German carmaker, which was a lead investor in rounds totaling $3.4 billion for Northvolt, a Swedish lithium-ion battery manufacturing company. Volkswagen is also a major customer for the company, which is building gigafactories in Sweden and Germany.
Runner-up for round count is Toyota, which has participated in at least 20 deals since last year. Its largest lead round was a $590 million Series C for electric aircraft maker Joby Aviation, which recently announced plans to go public via SPAC. Other big lead rounds went to two autonomous driving technology companies: Momenta ($500 million corporate round) and Pony.ai ($462 million Series B).
In the chart below, we look at the nine most active automakers by startup investment:
Not all automakers are active in the startup scene. Tesla, for instance, does not have a history of investing in venture rounds, apparently preferring to innovate in-house. Honda also doesn’t do a lot of venture investing, though it does partake in the occasional deal, such as a January round for autonomous driving venture Cruise.
Biggest deals, standout trends
Altogether, automakers have led at least 37 startup funding rounds since 2000, per Crunchbase data. We lay them out in the list below:
Sustainability looks to be the standout trend of the latest investment batch, with automakers pouring money into battery tech developers offering an alternative to fossil fuels and internal combustion engines.Close to half of lead rounds went to companies in battery tech or electric vehicle development.
Autonomous driving technology is also still going strong, despite expert predictions that truly self-driving cars could still be decades away. Even if drivers still must keep eyes on the road, however, automakers see a place for the technology to add functionality and safety features to their existing fleet, enticing new customers even if hand-free driving is still a distant vision.
Illustration: Li-Anne Dias
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