GM is buying Cruise Automation and taking the lead on driverless cars

Cruise AutomationGMGeneral Motors President Dan Ammann (right) with Cruise Automation co-founders Kyle Vogt (center) and Daniel Kan (left).

General Motors announced on Friday that it will acquire Cruise Automation, a San Francisco based self-driving car startup that was founded in 2013.

Neither GM nor Cruise disclosed the deal price.

The acquisition is expected to close in the second quarter, pending regulatory approval.

“GM shares a common vision for the deployment of autonomous vehicles at a mass scale — a clear and vivid vision,” said Kyle Vogt, Cruise’s founder and CEO.

He added that Cruise’s 40 employees would remain in San Francisco, but that the size of the team would be aggressively expanded. He declined to comment of how many new employees would join the company, which will be incorporated into GM’s newly formed autonomous-driving group.

Vogt was previously involved with SocialCam and Twitch, the online video-game site that sold to Amazon in 2014 for $970 million.

In the past year, GM has been accelerating the pace of development for its electric and autonomous-driving vehicle technologies. The largest automaker in the US has also been embracing ride-sharing, making a $500-million investment in Uber rival Lyft earlier this year.

The car maker rolled out its Bolt electric car at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, with plans to have it on the road by the end of 2016. GM also created a stand-alone ride sharing brand this year, called “Maven,” and has placed autonomous-vehicle development in a single business unit.

“We’re here to win,” said GM President Dan Ammann, who joined Vogt to make the announcement. “We’re super excited, and we have a very clear vision. We are very serious about leading, and we’re committed to investment.”

Cruise GM AcquisitionScreenshot via YouTubeThe founder and CEO.

Both Ammann, who now sits on the Lyft board, and GM CEO Mary Barra have indicated the golden opportunity for the automaker is autonomous, electric-powered ride-sharing. The disadvantages of trying to integrate those technologies and services in conventional cars and trucks are overcome, in the thinking of GM’s leadership, if fleets of driverless EVs can be used in cities to provide mobility to customers who don’t want to own a vehicle.

Ride sharing is a very obvious place for GM to use Cruise’s technology, Ammann said, as the automaker seeks to “fundamentally change the future of mobility.”

Fully autonomous vehicles haven’t yet hit the street, but GM and others, including Tesla, are now bringing partial self-driving technologies online in their cars. Ammann stressed that he expects GM’s acquisition of Cruise to enable GM to bring full autonomy to market.

Cruise GM AcqusitionScreenshot via YouTubeA self-driving car at the touch of a button.

Cruise had raised $20 million from various investors, Vogt said. The startup was a product of the Y Combinator accelerator program.

The company garnered some media attention for its technology, which was undergoing testing on Audis in California. Inc. portrayed the company and its MIT-dropout founder as trying to beat the big names in self-driving, chiefly Google, to the finish line.

Business Insider’s Alyson Shontell caught up with the company and its tech in mid-2104:

Called Cruise RP-1, the technology costs $10,000 to install and the process of hooking it up to a vehicle takes a few hours in the company’s San Francisco facility. Right now, Cruise is only compatible with Audi A4 or S4 vehicles but the team of mostly MIT engineers plans to expand the product line quickly. The goal of Cruise is to create a suite of products that will eventually turn any car into a driverless vehicle.

After the GM deal was announced, Vogt didn’t characterise Cruise’s technology as an aftermarket bolt-on, but rather as an integrated hardware and software system, and he added that Cruise was among the few companies granted a permit by the California DMV to test self-driving technology.

Vogt told BI that safety was the primary reason why he dived into the self-driving world. “There are 30,000 people who die in car accidents per year in the US, he said.

“[M]ost of those accidents are caused by drivers, not machines. In a situation where the tech exists to solve this problem, we have a responsibility to solve that issue.”

Cruise created a video in 2014 that showcased its technology. Watch it below:

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