By William Boston

BERLIN-- Intel Corp. is positioning itself to join BMW AG, Daimler AG and Volkswagen AG's Audi unit in developing navigation technology for self-driving cars.

The U.S. tech bellwether filed a request for regulatory approval in Germany to make a strategic acquisition of a minority stake in the digital-mapping service Here International B.V., the Berlin-based company that Germany's big-three car makers bought from Nokia in 2015 for about EUR2.5 billion ($2.6 billion).

Germany's antitrust authority disclosed Intel's request on Tuesday but gave no further details. The agency said it had one month to decide on whether to approve the acquisition, which is unlikely to pose competition concerns.

Here declined to comment. Intel couldn't be immediately reached for comment.

The German auto makers, which together dominate the global market for high-end luxury cars, set aside decades of bitter rivalry to jointly acquire Here in a bid to control the mapping technology they consider crucial for self-driving vehicles.

Intel appears to be positioning itself to enter the fast-growing technology field, marking the latest illustration of how the lines between the tech industry and conventional auto makers are blurring.

As the automobile morphs into a platform for digital services with the potential to generate huge profits, auto makers and tech companies are finding common cause or are engaged in fierce rivalries for control of the new mobility economy.

Auto makers are entering new businesses such as car-sharing and ride-hailing to capture new revenue streams generated by their vehicles. The car makers want to avoid being left behind because such services could potentially become more lucrative than their traditional businesses.

Tech companies such as Uber Technologies Inc., essentially an app provider, Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.'s Google, are challenging the dominance of auto makers including BMW, VW, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. in providing personal transportation. They are eager to extend their dominance of tech systems, apps and services to the automobile--just as in the past they moved from the personal computer to the smartphone.

New auto technology is driven by information technology, which is why the auto industry has already outpaced computer makers as the single biggest customer for the chip manufacturers such as Intel and Germany's Infineon Technologie AG.

Illustrating the trend, U.S. chip making giant Qualcomm Inc. in October said it would buy Dutch NXP Semiconductors NV, the world's largest developer of chips for automobiles, for $39 billion.

Chip makers provide the intelligent sensors and computing power needed to control functions such as projecting information onto the car's display, fuel injection and safety systems.

They also provide the eyes of the vehicle that enable cars to ascertain temperature, weather and road conditions, identify other vehicles and objects on the road and allow the vehicle to know its own location.

Here is developing a real-time navigation system that creates a 3-D map of the world's roads and allows vehicles to exchange information needed for navigation. The information will be stored on a cloud-based computer network that individual vehicles can access.

Intel's interest in taking a stake in Here indicates that chip makers view the nascent digital-navigation industry as a potential source of new revenue and innovation.

When the German auto makers bought Here they said they were eager to add strategic investors. Last week, Here said Chinese internet group Tencent Holdings Ltd., Chinese mapping company NavInfo Co. and Singapore's sovereign-wealth fund GIC planned to jointly buy a 10% stake in the company for an undisclosed price.

In December, Here unveiled a partnership with Mobileye NV, the Israeli tech company that makes sensors for advanced driver-assistance programs.

The head of Here's automotive business in Asia said in October that the company was looking for a partner in Japan. No deal has been announced yet, but an update could come soon, a person familiar with the situationsaid.

A group of nine Asian auto makers that include Toyota Motor Corp, Nissan Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co. formed the joint venture Dynamic Map Planning Co. in 2016 in a bid to set up a rival to Here.

Write to William Boston at

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 03, 2017 10:55 ET (15:55 GMT)

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