SoftBank Vision Fund's investments in San Francisco mapping technology startup Mapbox and Indian ride-sharing outfit Ola reflect founder Masayoshi Son's growing financial stake in technologies and business models that are disrupting the global automotive and transportation industries. As Son reportedly nears a massive investment in Uber, he is also backing a number of complementary technologies and rival companies.
Son makes some of the investments directly through his Japanese telecom and tech company Softbank (SFTBY) , and some through its subsidiary, the almost $100-billion Softbank Vision Fund.
The Fund is leading a $164 million investment in MapBoX announced Tuesday, along with current backers Foundry Group, DFJ Growth, DBL Partners, and Thrive Capital. MapBox develops mapping and location apps for companies such as Lyf, which Son has said is also a potential target for Softbank.
On Wednesday, parent company Softbank also upped its investment in Indian Uber rival Ola, taking part in a $1.1 billion round led by Tencent Holdings Ltd. (TCEHY) Ola said it could upsize the fundraising to $2 billion pending the outcome of its talks with other investors.
Softbank and Chinese ride-sharing company Didi Chuxing invested $2 billion in July in Singaporean transportation and mobile payments company Grab. The investment followed Softbank's $100 million funding of Brazilian ride-sharing startup 99 in May, and a $5 billion stake in DiDi Chuxing, formerly Xiaoju Kuaizhi Inc., in April.
The Softbank Vision Fund also has a stake in the chips that may one day power robotaxis through its 5% stake in Nvidia (NVDA) - Get Report . The chipmaker announced this week a new class of Pegasus graphics processing units that CEO and founder Jensen Huang says will dramatically reduce the amount of hardware that self-driving cars need to haul around, and will help guide global fleets of autonomous taxis.
In a related chipmaking play, Softbank paid $31 billion last September to acquire Arm Holdings plc, which develops parking sensors, automotive cyber security, safety technology and other automotive components.
A major investment in Uber would cap Son's global shopping spree.
The Softbank chairman acknowledged to investors during an August call that the company has interest in Uber and in Lyft. "[S]ome rumor says that we are interested in Uber," he said. "We are interested in discussing with Uber. We are also interested in discussing with Lyft." Existing Uber investors may be holding up the deal, however, according to the Financial Times. If Son can merge Sprint (S) - Get Report and T-Mobile (TMUS) - Get Report , as he has tried to do for some time, he could have a more powerful wireless network to connect to future fleets of self-driving cars in the U.S.
Meanwhile, Softbank's investment Mapbox could have applications across Son's global automotive portfolio. The company said it will use Softbank's funds to expand its car navigation and autonomous driving technology and to expand in Southeast, Asia, China and Europe, among other purposes.
If Son completes Softbank's investment in Uber, Mapbox could gain a major new client in its hometown.
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Editors' pick: Originally published Oct. 11.