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Uber near sale of $1-billion stake in self-driving unit, sources say

Uber near sale of $1-billion stake in self-driving unit, sources say
Pilot models of the Uber self-driving vehicle are displayed in 2016 in Pittsburgh. (Angelo Merendino / AFP/Getty Images)

Uber Technologies Inc. is in advanced discussions to sell a $1-billion stake in its costly self-driving-car unit to a consortium of investors led by SoftBank Group Corp., people familiar with the plans said.

The deal would value the autonomous-vehicle business at $5 billion to $10 billion, and Uber would retain a majority stake, said the sources, who asked not to be identified because the discussions were private. The plans weren’t finalized and could fall apart.

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SoftBank and Uber declined to comment. The late-stage discussions were reported earlier Wednesday by the Wall Street Journal.

In selling a piece of the self-driving business, Uber would offload part of a very expensive endeavor as the company faces scrutiny from prospective investors in an initial public offering planned for the coming months. The ride-hailing giant has yet to publicly file financial paperwork for its IPO but recently said it lost an adjusted $1.8 billion last year. The company has burned through more than $10 billion in its lifetime, and the development of autonomous cars accounts for a sizable chunk.

In addition to the financial liability, the autonomous-car effort has had a tumultuous history. Uber assembled the early team by pillaging a Carnegie Mellon lab, which sparked a backlash in the academic community. The company built on the effort by acquiring a self-driving-truck startup, which led to a high-profile lawsuit from Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo — a Google spinoff — accusing Uber of benefiting from stolen trade secrets.

The most tragic event happened a year ago, when an Uber self-driving vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona.

Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s chief executive, ordered his San Francisco company to take its self-driving cars off the road for much of last year. But he has indicated a desire to continue developing the vehicles in the hope that Uber will lead the way to a possible future where robots replace human drivers.

Uber has been exploring a deal to bring on outside investors for the self-driving business since last year. The investment group led by SoftBank, Uber’s largest shareholder, would include other backers and possibly at least one automaker, though their identities couldn’t be learned.

It’s a somewhat curious move for SoftBank. In June, the Japanese technology conglomerate agreed to invest billions of dollars in another self-driving business, General Motor Co.’s Cruise. A few months later, it took the stage with a fellow Uber investor, Toyota Motor Corp., to announce yet another autonomous-driving venture, called Monet Technologies Inc. But considering the massive bet it has on Uber, SoftBank will want to do whatever it can to boost the business.

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