Seeing Machines wins A$21m Japanese auto contract

Seeing Machines has won its first Japanese car manufacturer, rumoured to be Honda, in a deal initially worth A$21m (US$14.6m). The cars will go into production in 2025.

The actual headline figure for the win is highly conservative and is likely to end up many times bigger as the car manufacturer rolls out the technology across an ever-increasing number of models. This is what happened with BMW, Ford and Mercedes and I’m confident it will repeat here. 

Japan turns to Seeing Machines

The really important learning from this win is that SEE has finally cracked Japan, after years of hard work. Marc Bunce, an analyst at broker Cenkos, says: “We believe today’s win is a first step into the Japanese market and that the cost and performance advantages of Seeing Machines software and embedded systems approach, will enable it to win further business with Japanese OEMs.”

Hence, this will prove to be the first of many contracts with Japanese car companies that will confirm Seeing Machines position as the global leader in driver/occupant monitoring (DMS/OMS).

SEE already has a confirmed (conservative) auto pipeline of US$240m, although in all likelihood it is likely to be double that. As Bunce explains: “The ‘cumulative initial lifetime value’ of these award wins now up to A$345m/US$240m which we believe is predominantly based on conservative minimum production commitments for initial vehicle models. However, with actual production volumes usually much greater than minimum commitments, and the technology already being seen on models beyond the initial award win, we believe the likely lifetime value of these awards is already considerably larger.”

Global leadership

It’s now clear, as predicted here 4 years ago, that Seeing Machines is set to take over 75% of the global DMS market. Ironically, it seems that the market has de-rated its main rival Smart Eye based on this assumption without re-rating Seeing Machines. It is a position that, while frustrating to those holding the share, can’t last much longer.

Seeing Machines very dominance is the reason I don’t believe it will be allowed to remain independent much longer. With every auto contract won the importance of Seeing Machines to Qualcomm’s ambitions in the auto market become more obvious. Given that Qualcomm was keen to swoop on Arriver I expect the time is approaching when Christiano Amon will again reach for his wallet to try and secure the global leader in DMS/OMS.

Qualcomm CEO Cristiano Amon let the cat out of the bag in a recent interview, in which he discussed Qualcomm’s diversification strategy. He confirmed, after boasting of its US$16bn auto revenue pipeline and talking about the Arriver purchase: “Clearly M&A is going to be part of Qualcomm as we accelerate those non-handset businesses.”

With SEE’s auto-win rate increasing the prospect of an actual A$1bn pipeline isn’t very far away. If you also include revenues from its fast-expanding Fleet and Aviation divisions, Seeing Machines is a must-have for a chip company that wants to diversify its revenue stream.

SEE is almost totally de-risked, with earning visibility becoming clearer every month. The future cashflows from auto, fleet and aviation are going to be huge. Moreover, with the continuing investment in its intellectual property to ensure its systems remain far ahead of any rival, it has created a strong moat to fight off any would-be competitors for the foreseeable future.

Takeover target

By the end of its current financial year, all this should be clear to even the most sceptical investor but to savvy industry players, such as Cristiano Amon, it must be obvious now. Amon doesn’t strike me as the kind of man who would ever allow a competitor to eat his lunch – as Magna can bear witness.

Only Alphabet, Apple or Amazon would have the financial muscle to separate Qualcomm from its intended target. I’d add in Tesla as a wild card. Elon Musk loves pulling surprises and Tesla needs a decent DMS. Instead of blowing tens of billions creating an in-house solution he might just wake up one morning and decide to buy SEE.

Blue sky valuation?

As to valuation? Well, I’d value Seeing Machines’ Auto division at US$5bn minimum, Fleet about the same. Aviation isn’t as advanced but it’s a huge market that it is developing, so say US$2bn. In total, its intrinsic value is approximately US$10-12bn today.

Alternatively, If someone has the nous to offer 50p a share and SEE accept, well done. In 2 years they could probably float the company for 5x to 10x that. 

Some will doubtless say I’m talking nonsense. But the same naysayers said that 4 years ago when I predicted Seeing Machines would grab a 75% share of the global DMS market.

The writer holds stock in Seeing Machines

SmartEye vs Seeing Machines

In view of the stellar PR coming out of SmartEye today, I felt it worthwhile to mention that while I applaud its chutzpah, I still don’t think its technology matches that of Seeing Machines. That said, I believe both will progress further and eventually be taken over.

Questions for SmartEye

Let me explain some questions that arose in my mind as I read the announcement from SmartEye today.

  1. SmartEye is saying that it has half a million cars carrying its DMS but, if so, they must be selling it very cheaply given the revenues announced.
  2. Given Seeing Machines has already stated that A$900m of RFQs are being decided right now, it seems odd that SmartEye should contradict this with the statement that “several smaller procurements are soon to be decided in the near term”. Is it possible that this is marketing speak for: “We’ve not won VW or Toyota”?
  3. As if to dispel this notion we’re promised: “Three of the largest procurements of DMS to date are due for sourcing in the coming quarters”. Really? Well, don’t hold your breath if you think SmartEye is going to win them against the combined might of Qualcomm and Seeing Machines.

Of course, I am biased purely because I’ve conducted one helluva lot of research. I believe Qualcomm is set to unveil a host of auto RFQ wins before Christmas, with Seeing Machines DMS/OMS in them. And yes, I’m convinced SEE has won Toyota and VW — I just can’t prove it. Certainly, I don’t hear SmartEye mentioning either company.

Regarding fleet, I believe the global Shell deal is set to be huge. I’ve heard whispers that it could be a caterpillar-style deal, with upfront revenues that will bring forward break-even. Though, with Shell in a quiet period, I can’t confirm.

Moreover, See’s fleet arm is making money, while SmartEye’s nascent fleet offering is still pre-revenue! 

As for aviation, we patiently await the imminent takeoff off of Seeing Machines’ licensing deal with L3. It appears to have been delayed by a year. Regardless, given the progress made, the idea that Seeing Machines aviation arm has no value is plainly ludicrous (not in an Elon Musk way).

Bidders circling Seeing Machines?

By the way, I’m still of the opinion that Seeing Machines is very likely to receive a bid from Qualcomm very, very soon. Indeed, one fund manager recently rang me to ask about a rumour he’d heard coming out of the US, regarding a possible takeover of Seeing Machines. He didn’t mention who it was or his source but, if I was Qualcomm, I’d get the ring on Seeing Machines finger fast.

CES might be the perfect opportunity to announce the betrothal to the world. (I also believe SmartEye will also get bought in due course).

My logic? I just can’t imagine that Qualcomm can risk SEE’s tech falling to anyone else, given its importance to its auto stack offering. Look at how it outmaneuvered Magna to get its hands on Arriver. Certainly, Apple or Alphabet have the potential to outmuscle Qualcomm, as they must also know its potential worth. Therefore, I believe a lot of wooing is going on behind closed doors. 

By the way, has anyone dared tell Elon Musk that buying Seeing Machines might get Missy Cummings off his back?

My advice to Seeing Machines: “Don’t sign any pre-nup until you’ve seen the size of their respective wallets. You’re worth at least £10 billion!”

(Do your own research, as the writer may have been high on life while writing this – Ed).

The writer holds stock in Seeing Machines

Is Seeing Machines set to be taken over within 6 months?

Following today’s interview with Seeing Machines CEO Paul McGlone, I’m convinced that Seeing Machines is set to soon follow Veoneer and be the subject of a bidding war, most likely within the next 6 months.

The main driver is its dominance in the automotive driver monitoring space, where it is set to win the lions share of a multi-billion dollar market over the next year. (My view is it wins at least 70% of the RFQs).

McGlone was very candid in the interview and the key part I’m going to refer to starts from around 13 minutes in. There he outlined the problem winning most of the DMS/OMS market brings to a relative minnow:

“In my opinion, this is the beginning of the consolidation in interior sensing. Not the end, the beginning. I doubt very much whether there will be 3 or 4 majors in this space 2 years from now.”

“One of the challenges we have right now is that with almost a billion dollars of RFQs, which is more than we’ve seen in our entire life, on our table today, and we expect another billion next year, we have a really important decision to make. Do we pursue it all, do we get selective and strategic about what we pursue? What are the investment implications for either choice?

It is very, very clear: if we pursue it all and we win at our historical run rate of 40 plus per cent it is a fantastic return on investment. So, over the next 2 quarters we’ll be looking in great detail around the volume of RFQs, the requirements in each of them…the cost of doing them and the return on investment. That is the big decision for us to make. We don’t have to make it now but we’ll be working on it over the next 2 quarters.”

I personally think the opportunity is so huge that even if Seeing Machines wanted to pursue the opportunity offered by automotive alone, it won’t be allowed to do so. However, I think they’ve already decided to sell if the price is right.

By the way, I think that price will be over £1. Looks silly when the price is 10p but huge contract wins haven’t yet been announced. When they are the price will rise and £1 will eventually look cheap.

Qualcomm grabbed Veoneer from the hands of Magna because it sees the strategic importance of active safety in automotive to its future business.

Seeing Machines is of even more importance as its technology is the jewel in the crown of active safety (an area that has grown in importance as the automotive industry comes to realise that mass adoption of fully autonomous vehicles is decades away). While car computer systems will increasingly carry out more tasks for drivers they’ll still need to ensure drivers are paying sufficient attention to take over when required.

Moreover, Seeing Machines technology, which at its height goes far beyond mere eye-tracking and helps computers to assess the cognitive load of a human (including whether they are incapacitated or not), has many uses that go far beyond passenger automotive. This includes trucking and uses in aviation (training simulators, ground control tracking and planes). Shipping and flying cars will surely follow and spacecraft would logically use it eventually.

Yet, its tech has uses far beyond transport: in XR headsets, mobiles, medical devices and robots. In all these markets Seeing Machines technology has the potential to deliver multi-billion dollar revenues to its owner.

That’s why, although I expect it to be valued partly on a forward order book in automotive, its dominance in the trucking and nascent aviation markets will also increase its intrinsic worth.

Crucially, it should also obtain a healthy premium for its strategic importance in developing future markets.

That’s why, although Qualcomm must be red hot favourites to take it over, there is the likelihood that another chip company (eager to spoil the party) or even a private equity firm (awash with dry powder and seeking to acquire valuable assets) will make a bid.

I also think a bid from Apple or even Alphabet is a strong possibility. Each will know its strategic importance to their future plans and be prepared to outbid Qualcomm for it. For example, after the money spent on Waymo for little real return it might make sense for Alphabet to hedge its bets and spend a few billion dollars to acquire a guaranteed golden goose like Seeing Machines. Equally, why should the forthcoming Apple Car not use its own DMS (from Seeing Machines) and use that technology in its own computer chips to power its headsets, mobiles and computers?

Of course, I could be completely wrong. After all, I once thought driver monitoring would be one of the hottest areas in automotive and look how that worked out.

The writer holds stock in Seeing Machines.

Battle of the Titans?

In response to my latest blog post, Colin Barnden, Lead Analyst at Semicast Research, wrote to me explaining why he thinks Fovio is of strategic importance to both Apple and Alphabet. Indeed, his analysis reinforces my feeling that the two may soon battle it out to acquire Seeing Machines — regardless of any initial low-ball bid in the 25p-30p range from another party that kicks off a bidding war. 

I’ve reproduced his comments in full below so you get the benefit of his insights:

Colin Barnden

“Do you hear the thud? That’s the sound of the penny dropping in Silicon Valley that autonomous driving is not easy peasy after all. Witness no robo taxi development stories since March, after the Uber crash. As you report today, witness also the speed of conventional OEMs starting to adopt camera-based DMS. This is a technology which I have repeatedly been told by people at Silicon Valley based tech companies is “at best an interim solution and at worst already obsolete”. Elon might think something like that, but a steady stream of auto OEMs seem to want to work with Seeing Machines anyhow. My view is that every auto OEM will have announced their plans for camera-based DMS by the end of this year, with most implementing the technology for production from 2021 to 2023.

Apple have been trying to get into automotive for several years. Project Titan never really got off the ground, but CarPlay has been well received. For Alphabet, they have to hedge their position that Level 3 is redundant and have already moved to Level 4. There are many articles discussing this, here is one: https://www.wired.com/2017/01/human-problem-blocking-path-self-driving-cars/

I totally disagree with that view and Level 3 is very much possible, but it needs advanced DMS and sufficient human factors research to understand what humans do in the seconds and minutes following handing over driving to machine intelligence. Seeing Machines are underway with this work, led by Mike Lenné and the CAN Drive project. As Tesla have found – and Cadillac proven – you cannot even do Level 2 safely without camera DMS and the recent EC legislation calls for mandatory advanced distraction DMS (camera-based) even for Level 0. Other regions will follow in my view.

Both Apple and Alphabet need it, ideally so the other doesn’t have the technology. Whoever wins gets a minimum 3-5 year lead on the other (automotive qualification alone is 3 years – and Fovio is automotive qualified). Remember Zuck bought WhatsApp for $19 billion so Facebook had a potential rival under control. Conventional metrics for valuing a company won’t apply, this would be a straight Battle of the Titans. I’ll be watching.”

The writer holds stock in Seeing Machines.

Toyota or bid announcement?

The good news for investors in Seeing Machines is that I’m hearing from multiple sources that Seeing Machines is set to win a contract with Toyota next.

Apparently, it’s the only driver monitoring system (DMS) that is being specified in multiple Tier 1 bids – as was the case with the big BMW win recently. If true – and I see no reason to doubt my sources’ information – it just goes to further reinforce the global domination of Seeing Machines’ Fovio DMS in the auto industry.

Bid coming?

For that reason, I’m not surprised that there are now 10 market makers for the company on the London Stock Exchange, up from 4 a year ago. Most recently, Berenberg have started broking them. The better news is that I think this German bank may be acquiring shares for a company that plans to bid for Seeing Machines.

I could be wrong about that last assumption: Berenberg may be buying for a German fund. Nevertheless, various sources are warning of an imminent low ball bid – somewhere around 25p-30p a share for Seeing Machines. 

Some of my sources believe it is a Tier 1 auto supplier, others discount that theory. Interestingly, when asked about this in a previous interview back in March, Ken Kroeger did tease: “I agree it is either someone like that who can see the full value or a really diverse Tier 2 or Tier 1, as opposed to the OEM.”

While traders might be impressed by that figure, anyone with any knowledge of the auto industry and even an average understanding of Seeing Machines proven technological global dominance in driver monitoring systems shouldn’t be.

If such a bid should materialise I’ve been told by multiple sources that certain chip manufacturers (Intel/Nvidia, Xilinx and Qualcomm) would most likely be prepared to offer a lot more than a measly 30p. So I fully expect a competitive bidding situation to materialise if the rumour turns out to be fact.

Seeing Machines house brokers haven’t issued any upgrades in a long while. Still, based purely on old figures from Canaccord Genuity’s Caspar Trenchard note of Jan 9, (which excludes any figures for the huge Ford win as well as the big BMW win) it must be worth at least 59p a share. That is 30 times forecast revenues for 2019 of A$79.5m = 59p a share.

You could even argue that SEE should be on a higher multiple, such as the 42 times revenue multiple that Intel paid for Mobileye when it went for US$15.3bn. That would equate to roughly 83p a share for Seeing Machines. (This obviously ignores any value for Fleet, Rail and the Caterpillar business).

Yet, the strategic importance of Seeing Machines to the future of transport (never mind vision for robotics) will have been noted far and wide. In such a situation, I’ve been told that the chip companies are often prepared to pay up without months of haggling over the odd US$1bn. It’s small change to them when global domination is at stake.

Even Apple and Alphabet (parent of Waymo) can surely see the sense in DMS, so for what is petty cash for them they could also come in.

The writer holds shares in Seeing Machines.