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

Seeing Machines delivering on long-term strategy

In an exclusive interview with Seeing Machines interim Chief Executive Ken Kroeger, he has confirmed that the company remains on track to hit its first half financial targets and is making no adjustments to its full year figures.

Following the departure of former chief executive Mike McAuliffe, who had only been in place a few months, private investors have been concerned as to whether there was likely to be any strategic change of direction. Happily, as Ken Kroeger confirmed: “The strategy that we’re executing is exactly the same one that we were executing when he arrived. Moreover, the executive team that is delivering that strategy remains the same.”

It’s a point that was well made by Lorne Daniel, analyst at house broker FinnCap a week ago, when he wrote: “We know that the second tier of management in this business is particularly strong and will continue to follow the strategy and deliver on the milestones as expected.”

The business certainly seems to be making steady progress across fleet, auto and aviation and Kroeger stressed the efforts of the executive team in having built them up. “These are businesses that didn’t even exist a few year ago and Paul Angelatos (Fleet), Nick Di Fiore (automotive) and Pat Nolan (Aviation) have done a great job in creating and building these markets for Seeing Machines.”

Auto industry

Not only is Seeing Machines working with GM to deliver driver monitoring systems for its cars (most notably the Cadillac CT6 whose Supercruise system uses it), but on October 30, 2017 its Fovio Driver Monitoring System was chosen by a premium German OEM (who I believe to be Mercedes).

Kroeger wouldn’t comment on who the German OEM is but did confirm: “It is extensively pushing the boundaries in driver monitoring, taking it to a whole new level. That is underway. That is a real state of the art delivery, very technically challenging but it sets a completely new performance standard for DMS.”

Given recent bulletin board discussions as to the respective merits of Seeing Machines technology vs. SmartEye, Kroeger was happy to explain: “We have the best technology, there is no doubt about that at all. SmartEye has an okay technology, which is cheaper…we’re much better positioned to take the premium car models that are interested in performance, who need this to work because it is a safety critical feature. For models that are being rolled out where it is nice to have comfort features in the car, which only require rudimentary head and eye-tracking, SmartEye is a viable option.

He added: “Right now we definitely have a leadership position from a technical perspective. That is very much respected by the auto OEMs.”

In addition, I’m optimistic that other OEMs will select Seeing Machines DMS technology, doubtless driven by the NCAP requirement for any car model wishing to have a 5 star safety rating from 2020 to have a DMS in place.

In Japan strong market opportunities are being helped by the effort of Kevin Tanaka working out of the West Coast in the US. Also Kroeger confirmed: “There is a very strong alignment with Xilinx in Japan, who are doing a lot of our on the ground marketing for us. It is definitely getting well received by the Japanese.”

Fleet

While a comprehensive Fleet update is due this week that should provide much awaited news on further wins, Kroeger did reveal that the Guardian 2.0 device will start shipping by the end of March. The upgraded system is significantly cheaper to manufacture, smaller and easier to install, which should also help increase penetration rates.

Takeover

Given the much higher profile of Seeing Machines since the launch of the Cadillac CT6 and the most recent CES show, where it was showcased by both Bosch and Autoliv speculation is increasing daily over whether it is being tracked for takeover, whether by a Tier 1, a telematics company, or even Google or Apple.

Asked about this Kroeger coyly replied: “There is always interest. We would never say ‘no’ to a conversation but we also recognise that there will a time when the time is right to return the best value to shareholders. We’re very cautious about the conversations we do have and, if we were to contemplate selling the company, we would have to find somebody who valued the entire organisation to obtain the full value for it.”

When pressed further about Google, Apple or Amazon seeing the long term value in Seeing Machines technology, which has applications far beyond transport alone, given it can enable robots to see and perhaps eventually even empathise with humans, Ken Kroeger commented: “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. The Tier 1s sell to the OEMs but some of the Tier 2s which sell to the Tier 1s are exceptionally diverse. They might be building stuff for automotive, stuff for aviation and stuff for medical devices, stuff for consumer electronics. They might not just be an automotive-centric supplier. They are really hard to find and pinpoint but they are out there because they are always talking to us.

Of the partners that Seeing Machines currently has some are definite possibles. “Or, it could be someone who sells image processors and wants to start packaging it with software already on it on a smart camera or smart sensor,” teased Kroeger.

Despite being a world leader in DMS tech, a key plank in the forthcoming generation of semi-autonomous cars and increasingly being considered in trains, planes, trams and buses, it’s current share price languishes at approximately 5.5p. This valuation anomaly cannot last much longer, especially as with the recent fundraise it has been largely de-risked as an investment provided sales continues.

Ironically, such a deeply discounted valuation could well be the catalyst for an opportunistic bid from a cash-rich global player before the year end.

The writer holds stock in Seeing Machines.