Mergers and acquisitions aren’t new in the business world, but they are posing some interesting questions to navigators as the world’s two biggest electronic cartography manufacturers — C-map and Navionics — have both been acquired by larger marine-electronics companies in recent years, potentially heralding a new era of increased innovation for end users while also potentially elevating the table stakes for marine-electronics manufacturers.
Some back story. In March 2016, Jeppesen (a Boeing subsidiary) sold C-map, its marine cartography business, to Digital Marine Solutions, which is owned by the Swedishflagged Altor Equity Partners, a private-equity firm that also owns Navico, the parent company of the B&G, Lowrance and Simrad brands. While this acquisition put C-map under Altor’s roof, Navico and C-map continued to operate as independent companies for the next two-plus years.
Flash forward to October 2017, when news broke that Garmin had acquired Navionics, with the intention of (eventually) blending Navionics’ data with its proprietary Bluechart Mobile cartography, which are still the only charts that can be used on Garmin plotters. While this news initially foreshadowed a fresh round of chart plotter wars, Garmin was crystal clear that it would retain the Navionics brand and continue supporting its cartography for customers using non-garmin platforms, much like it does with its Fusion Entertainment brand of marine stereos that play nicely with all third-party multifunction devices. “Garmin intends to continue to fully support Navionics charts for other brands,” says Dave Dunn, Garmin’s director of sales and marketing for marine. “We have no intention of making Navionics proprietary to Garmin, and we intend to invest significantly in Navionics to ensure it remains the industry-leading choice for electronic marine charting.”
The story took a new twist in early July 2018, when it was announced that Altor would merge C-map with Navico, formally bringing this cartography brand under the same management as its popular B&G, Lowrance and Simrad labels. “This merger will allow us to bring innovative and exciting solutions to market at an accelerated pace, all of which will greatly benefit the consumer,” says Leif Ottosson, CEO of the Navico Group. “We’re planning to introduce a number of new features that we will make available to all C-map OEMS.”
Here, it’s important to note that Navico — much like Garmin and Navionics — has no plans to make C-map charts (or even feature sets) proprietary to its hardware platforms. “C-map will continue to supply Navico competitors, such as Raymarine and Furuno,” says Ottosson.
While these changes could potentially stiffen market competition for marine-electronics manufacturers that don’t produce and support their own in-house cartography, the forecast — as of this writing — is positive for navigators. “The changes we are seeing in cartography are making it easier for us to provide innovative electronics solutions along with trusted mapping systems to our customers,” says Cristina Kochevar, West Marine’s category manager for electronics.
Moving forward, it will be interesting to see what innovations are unfurled, the benefits they provide, and how these mergers and acquisitions affect the marine-electronics landscape.