It was founded in 1999, but Yossi Vardi — considered one of the fathers of Israel’s high-tech start-up scene — said the automobile industry’s growth in Israel really began in 2007 when General Motors established a research and development centre.
“It surprised everybody that a company like General Motors would go to Israel to source innovation and technology.” In the past three years, Vardi said, Honda, Ford, Volkswagen, Volvo and others have followed suit.
Most Israeli companies in the field are not involved in production, but in ways to make driving more efficient. Among them are Otonomo, which provides in-depth data on car usage; Argus, one of the market leaders in protecting cars from cyber hacking; and VocalZoom, dubbed “Siri for cars”.
Elan Zivotofsky, general partner at the OurCrowd equity platform that invests in a number of companies working on autonomous cars, compared it to smartphones, laptops and other sectors in which Israeli technology is heavily used, but that the final products are still made elsewhere.
“Israel is not going to be in the business of building cars,” Zivotofsky said. “Israel is in the business of building some of the
most important core elements that will enable autonomous driving.”
Vardi said the country’s military experience, with some of the world’s most advanced monitoring, laser-guiding and other technologies, placed it in a good position.
“When you drive a car, you cannot stop the car and wait 15 minutes for the computer to process. It has to be immediate.
“This kind of talent you find in the military — in airplanes etc.”
The effect of Mobileye could be significant, said Yaniv Feldman, editor-in-chief of the Israeli Geektime tech blog.
There are dozens of companies in the sector and Feldman said Israel was already one of the leading players in autonomous driving behind the US and China.
In 2016, about $70m had been invested in automotive technology in Israel, he said, but that would increase “somewhere between 25% to 40%”.
None of the other companies was as advanced as Mobileye, though, he said.
Aquarius Engines, an Israeli firm that claims to have developed a radically improved combustion engine, is seeking $10m in a second round of funding.
Chairman Gal Fridman said it had already noticed a change. “Since Mobileye happened, our phone is ringing all the time.
“Until now, when I came and told [car companies] I was an Israeli developing an engine, it was a bit odd as the country has no history of automobiles.
“Now, after Waze and Mobileye, we have more credibility, and doors will open easier,” Fridman said.