Nokia Races in Second Gear to Catch Google's Driverless Cars

NEW YORK (TheStreet) --  Nokia (NOK), newly out of the smartphone business, has turned its attention to "smart" cars.

Attempting to rebrand itself as a well-rounded, innovative technology company similar to Google (GOOG) or one of billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk's companies, Nokia said it plans to spend $100 million financing companies that develop driverless car technologies.

The investments will be carried out by Nokia Growth Partners, Nokia's venture-capital arm, which manages about $700 million.

"We're seeing innovation that's happening across the auto ecosystem through the combination of mobility and the Internet," Paul Asel, a partner at the Nokia venture-capital arm, told Bloomberg. "The car is really becoming a platform like when the mobile handset became a smartphone and all the apps and services developed around that."

The transition into smartcar technology comes as Nokia tries to rebuild itself after selling its mobile-phone unit to Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) for about $7.5 billion in April.

In its effort to create a more connected car, Nokia is seeking to make its maps business a stronger competitor against Google and other rivals.

Nokia has been building its maps business by acquiring Chicago-based map provider Navteq for $8.1 billion in 2008 and 3-D map-technology maker Earthmine in 2012. Already, the company provides map data to Amazon.com (AMZN), Microsoft, Yahoo! (YHOO), and four out of five car-navigation systems, a major segment as future connected-device systems use more location data, according to Bloomberg.

The market for driverless cars is still in its infancy, but many companies with capital to burn are looking for ways to make this type of car accessible to the average driver.

Google has already begun testing driverless cars in the U.S., and General Motors (GM) has said it is planning vehicles by 2020 that will be able to drive themselves on controlled-access highways.

Likewise, Tesla Motors (TSLA) CEO Elon Musk said in 2013 that Tesla is considering adding driverless technology to its vehicles, saying it was "a logical step in the evolution of cars."

Nokia seems determined to enter this new market based on the hundreds of millions of dollars it is ready to spend, but it will be no easy task since it is competing against some of the most capitalized and innovative companies in the world.

At the time of publication the author had no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

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This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.

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