Honda and Volvo open smart car accelerator DRIVE in Tel Aviv, showing Israel is battlefield in self-driving race


A coalition of car companies has launched a new smart mobility accelerator in Israel, it was announced Wednesday. DRIVE will open with $8 million in hand to fund its accelerator, co-working space, and prototyping lab. The Honda Silicon Valley Lab, Volvo Cars, Hertz International and Israeli company Ituran are backing the initiative.

“DRIVE was created from a significant need in the world of smart mobility entrepreneurs to hone real market needs through collaboration with market leaders, creation of initial stage prototypes, and the ability to back the collaboration with focused investments,” DRIVE Co-Founder and CEO Boaz Mamo wrote in a press release. “DRIVE will unite all its resources in order to locate and support the most promising start-ups in the field of smart mobility in Israel and around the world.”

Mamo is the former founder of EcoMotion and and another smart mobility accelerator Capsule. He will be supported by DRIVE co-founders Omer Shachar of the Mayer Group and Dr. Tal Cohen of the Georgia Institute of Technology.

“Through the DRIVE concept, we will be collaborating with startups and entrepreneurs in Israel on defining real-world applications for their ideas for smart mobility including car rental, and providing them with the opportunity to pilot their initiatives,” commented Michel Taride, group president of Hertz International. “Our ambition is to seek out and influence the development of disruptive innovation to transform aspects of our core business model as well as drive customer experience to a whole new level.”

Ribbon-cutting ceremony at DRIVE in Tel Aviv (courtesy)

The center will provide mentorship and business guidance, in addition to networking with important investor contacts and potential investments from DRIVE’s backers.

“We are very excited to join the DRIVE community of smart mobility innovators in the ‘Silicon Wadi,’ being involved in initiatives like the DRIVE Innovation Center program enables us to stay connected to development efforts around the world. It also complements our own research and development activity, which is aimed at helping us remain competitive and truly differentiated in this rapidly emerging sector,” Hertz CIO Tyler Best wrote.

Self-driving arms race has Israeli battlefield

While headlines have obsessed over self-driving cars, the category of smart mobility encompasses more than just autonomous vehicles. The creation of DRIVE mirrors developments with other vehicle manufacturers like the creation of subsidiary Ford Smart Mobility, led by CEO Rajendra “Raj” Rao, which deals with everything from ridesharing to cars-as-a-service (CaaS). Since launch, they already have one big investment under their belt: a $15 million round in India’s Zoomcar.

“This was a direct outcome of our very intentional approach to take our time and get it right,” Ford’s Ken Washington said at SXSW last year when their new project was unveiled. “We’ve been fairly deliberate about exploring the space and the options. There’s a lot of ways people can move around.”

Developments worldwide are coming fast and strong as governments and business leaders try to get their economies ahead of the game on new mobility technologies. Govern John Kasich recently okayed creating a “Smart Mobility Corridor” in Northeast Ohio along the Ohio Turnpike while Singapore just got its first smart mobility consortium with founding members Nanyang Technological University and NXP Semiconductors. The OP Group is currently running a Smart Mobility Innovation Challenge this week in Finland.

Yet, Israel is as important a player in the industry as car manufacturing centers in Europe, Japan, or the US. The big evidence for this is Uber’s $680 million acquisition of Israeli autonomous trucking startup Otto, which hit the roads in Colorado late last year with a, epic 120-mile beer delivery.

More companies are also poised for some big paydays in the future.

Local startup otonomo (de-capitalized ‘o’) raised $12 million in November to build software for connected cars to better coordinate while LiDAR manufacturer Innoviz took home $9 million in August. Another local company, Oryx, raised $17 million from investors in October to built an alternative to LiDAR detection systems.

Honda and Volvo, as well as Hertz and Ituran, have made a smart move with a very small investment to establish a base in Israel. However, the amount of venture activity on the ground in Tel Aviv will require them to be intimately involved with DRIVE if they want to press any competitive advantage detecting game-changing developments before the competition does.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here