Cruise Automation, a self-driving car subsidiary of General Motors, is rushing to create a new autonomous vehicle with the help of one of the largest names in the automotive industry.
Honda said it will invest $2.75 billion into Cruise’s autonomous vehicle operations over the next 12 years, an infusion that arrives several months after the Japanese firm SoftBank announced a $2.25 billion investment in the company.
Both investments bring the four-year-old company’s valuation to a whopping $14.6 billion, General Motors said in a news release Wednesday. Cruise Automation is already building a fleet of autonomous vehicles that could hit American streets as early as next year.
Company officials were short on specific details about the new vehicle, but in a statement published on Medium, Kyle Vogt said that the massive Japanese automaker will work jointly with Cruise and GM to develop an “innovative, space-efficient autonomous vehicle” that “minimizes congestion on crowded city streets.”
In an interview Wednesday morning on Cheddar Live, Vogt said Honda brings experience in “space efficient design”. He declined to offer a timeline for the new vehicle’s release and said his company is “moving as quickly as we possibly can.”
GM noted that the vehicle will be manufactured at high volume “for global deployment.”
“Shouldn’t the car of the future have giant TV screens, a mini bar, and lay-flat seats?” Vogt statement said. “Maybe it should. We’ve been quietly prototyping a groundbreaking new vehicle over the past two years that is fully released from the constraints of having a driver behind the wheel.”
“Building a new vehicle that has an incredible user experience, optimal operational parameters, and efficient use of space is the ultimate engineering challenge,” the statement added.
The funding arrives nearly 10 months after GM unveiled the Cruise AV — a fourth-generation autonomous vehicle based on a Chevy Bolt EV that lacks a steering wheel, pedals and manual controls that have come to define the experience of riding inside an automobile for more than a century.
“Autonomous vehicles are not simply a Silicon Valley-based dream,” Zo Rahim, research manager at the automotive media company Cox Automotive told CNN Money after Wednesday’s announcement. “Current auto manufacturers are primed to dictate the direction and growth of the future of mass mobility.”
GM is already testing second- and third-generation self-driving Cruise AVs on busy streets in San Francisco and Phoenix with a human engineer in the vehicle. The vehicle relies on cameras, radar and high-precision laser sensors known as lidar for navigation. The fourth generation of that vehicle will be used in a ride-sharing program in multiple American cities, where “the vehicles will travel on a fixed route controlled by their mapping system,” Bloomberg reported.
The partnership with Cruise is not the first time Honda and GM have teamed up. The automakers recently began collaborating on electric car battery technology as part of a multiyear agreement, according to GM.
In the company’s news release, Mary Barra, GM’s chairman and chief executive, called the latest partnership with Honda a “logical step,” given their joint work on electric vehicles.
“Together, we can provide Cruise with the world’s best design, engineering and manufacturing expertise, and global reach to establish them as the leader in autonomous vehicle technology — while they move to deploy self-driving vehicles at scale.”
In his statement on Medium, Vogt said the vehicle produced with Honda is “what comes next.” A teaser image produced alongside the blog post appears to show a futuristic-looking, black and silver vehicle that vaguely resembles the front of a bullet train.
“We’re going to do this right, and by joining forces with Honda we’ve found the perfect partner to help make it happen,” Vogt added.