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Future mobility

Hyundai Motor hires Goldman as adviser for Boston Dynamics acquisition

Nov 11, 2020 (Gmt+09:00)

Hyundai Motor Co. has hired Goldman Sachs Group Inc. as its adviser in its attempt to acquire Boston Dynamics Inc., signaling the seriousness of the South Korean automaker's bid for the US robotics firm.

Hyundai Motor has also picked Kim & Chang, Korea’s leading law firm, as its legal counsel for the acquisition of Boston Dynamics, according to investment banking sources on Nov. 11.

Sources said the automaker, jointly with the advisers, has entered negotiations with SoftBank Group Corp., the current owner of Boston Dynamics. Hyundai Motor was internally considering the US robotics firm as an M&A target back in 2018, when it was seeking to buy self-driving car technology developer Aptiv, they said.

Robots made by Boston Dynamics (Courtesy: Boston Dynamics)

The move comes a day after a media report on Tuesday that South Korea’s largest automaker is seeking to acquire Boston Dynamics from SoftBank in a deal worth as much as $1 billion, as Hyundai agressively invests in future mobility.

Nothing is finalized yet, and the deal, which is in early stages, could eventually fall through, Bloomberg reported. Hyundai didn’t confirm the report, but said it is “continuously exploring various investment and partnership opportunities.”

TECHNICAL PROWESS IN LEGGED ROBOTS

Industry analysts said Hyundai Motor aims to acquire the US firm’s technological prowess in its leg-type robots, which the Korean automaker lacks. Hyundai has so far focused on wheeled robots in its robotics development.

“A fusion of both types of robots will create synergy for Hyundai. When future mobility is realized, wheeled robots can be utilized to deliver parcels or food closer to customers’ homes and then legged robots can provide last-mile services to their doorstep,” said a mobility expert.

Chairman Chung Euisun outlines Hyundai Motor's future mobility vision

Hyundai Motor has shown growing interest in automated vehicle technology and robotics over the past years, and said it will invest up to 1.5 trillion won ($1.4 billion) in robotics by 2025.

Hyundai Motor Group’s new Chairman Chung Euisun, who took the helm at the automaker last month, has publicly declared that robotics will account for 20% of its future business, with automobiles taking up half of its sales, followed by urban air mobility (UAM) at 30%.

HURDLES IN ACQUISITION BID

Analysts said Hyundai Motor faces some hurdles in its attempt to buy Boston Dynamics, which is more like a research firm than a profit-seeking business.

The US robot maker was originally spun off from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1992, acquired by Google owner Alphabet in 2014 and then sold to SoftBank in 2017.

Analysts said some of the issues likely put on agenda during the acquisition talks include how to share intangible assets such as robotics-related patents between the buyer and the seller and how to keep robotics researchers at Boston Dynamics from leaving after Hyundai’s takeover.

A move to Hyundai could push Boston Dynamics to more quickly commercialize its technology, as the Korean automaker boasts mass-production techniques, they said.

Boston Dynamics is known for technologically advanced but unprofitable machines such as Spot, a maneuverable dog-like robot, while Hyundai Motor makes highly practical industrial robots intended for factory use.

Hyundai's robotics technology: the Elevate concept vehicle unveiled at CES 2019

COMPETITIVE PRICE KEY TO COMMERCIALIZATION

Mass production with a lower price tag is also crucial in commercializing the robot technology developed by Boston Dynamics.

SpotMini, one of the US tech firm’s latest models, has been selling at $75,000 apiece since June, and Kore’s LG Group is among those which have purchased one.

The price of SpotMini is relatively higher than that of robots made by Chinese companies, which are gradually enhancing their presence in the global robot market.

Chinese firm Unitree Robotics recently vowed to sell its robot dog A1 at less than $10,000 apiece in the near future.

“The best-case scenario for Hyundai’s takeover of Boston Dynamics is that the US firm continues to focus on research and development of robotics technology, while sharing the results with Hyundai, which in turn takes the role of producing them in large quantity,” said a mobility industry official.

“In a worst-case scenario, however, if the acquired US company spends too much on its R&D projects without commercializing them at the right time, it could create a financial headache for Hyundai.”

Write to Jun-ho Cha at chacha@hankyung.com

In-Soo Nam edited this article.

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