Amazon has put Zoox, the self-driving startup it bought for $1.3 billion, under its Alexa and hardware boss, suggesting a bold ambition that could challenge Uber and Lyft (AMZN)

Amazon SVP Dave Limp September 2019picture alliance / Getty Images

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Zoox, the self-driving startup Amazon bought for $1.3 billion, is now under the oversight of the executive in charge of Amazon's hardware and Alexa voice assistant businesses, Business Insider has learned.

Zoox CEO Aicha Evans, who joined Amazon after the deal closed in August, now reports to Dave Limp, Amazon's SVP of devices and digital management, according to an internal document seen by Business Insider. While Zoox is still run as a standalone company within Amazon, organizationally it is placed under Limp — a similar arrangement to Ring, the home security camera maker Amazon bought in 2018. 

Limp is one of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos's direct reports and is part of the company's most senior leadership suite called the "S-team." He is in charge of Amazon's Lab126 unit that developed the Echo devices and the Alexa voice-assistant technology, as well as other futuristic initiatives, like Project Kuiper, which is building a satellite network that can provide broadband internet service. (Zoox, however, is not becoming a part of Lab126).

Amazon tends to place its acquisitions under the organization it believes will have the most relevancy. Whole Foods, for example, was put under its retail boss Jeff Wilke's group after Amazon bought the grocery chain in 2017, while PillPack, the online pharmacy startup Amazon acquired in 2018, is now part of the broader marketplace segment.

Placing Zoox under Limp's organization reflects Amazon's ambition to take the self-driving startup in areas beyond its core retail delivery and transportation segments. While some investors believe Amazon bought Zoox to primarily improve its delivery capacity and cost efficiency, Amazon previously said the deal is meant to "help bring [Zoox's] vision of autonomous ride-hailing to reality."

"It speaks to just how early stage autonomous driving still is — it's being put into one of the longer-term areas of investment and capital allocation for Amazon," Morgan Stanley's Brian Nowak told Business Insider. "Placing Zoox into this segment probably leans more on the camp that [Amazon] is focused on going after autonomous ride-sharing — a separate business from the core."

In an email to Business Insider, Amazon's spokesperson declined to comment on the company's specific organizational structure. Instead, the spokesperson pointed to the announcement of the deal from June, which included statements by its retail chief Jeff Wilke, not Limp.

"Zoox is working to imagine, invent, and design a world-class autonomous ride-hailing experience," Wilke, Amazon's CEO of Worldwide Consumer, said in the June announcement. "Like Amazon, Zoox is passionate about innovation and about its customers, and we're excited to help the talented Zoox team to bring their vision to reality in the years ahead."

The setup is slightly different from Amazon's other ambitious projects that deal with futuristic technology. When Amazon launched its Prime Air drone unit, it placed the team under Wilke's retail group, in part because of its direct relevance to deliveries. Kiva Systems, the warehouse robotics startup Amazon bought in 2012, was also placed under the operations team that runs the company's massive logistics network.

Morgan Stanley's Nowak said Zoox could help Amazon get into new areas of business. In a note published in May, he wrote that the Zoox acquisition could eventually open the door for Amazon to compete in the ride-sharing and food delivery industries, citing discounted ride-sharing for Prime members as one potential idea. He also wrote the deal is further evidence of Amazon being a "clear competitor" to auto companies like Tesla and GM.

Amazon has shown a growing interest in the general auto industry in recent years. Bezos previously told employees he was "very excited" about the auto industry because of all the innovation taking place, adding that it's a space he's willing to "participate in." The Zoox acquisition follows Amazon's investments in other auto-related startups in recent years, including the self-driving startup Aurora and the electric-vehicle maker Rivian.

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