Cruise will be sending its first self-driving test vehicles to Japan in 2021. Details about where, when and how many are unknown at this point. But the move appears to deepen the autonomous vehicle partnership between GM and Honda that started in 2018. GM is the majority shareholder in Cruise, while Honda is a major financial backer.
Honda said this is part of its autonomous vehicle mobility service (MaaS) in Japan. It’s aiming to launch the MaaS business using the Cruise Origin, but that development is further down the road. Origin is a vehicle Cruise, GM and Honda jointly developed from the ground up. The ride-sharing vehicle has large windows, sliding doors to avoid collisions with moving vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists, and a spacious cabin. Zoox, which was acquired by Amazon for $1.2 billion in 2020, introduced a ride-sharing autonomous vehicle that looks quite similar to Origin.
This will be the first time Cruise deploys its vehicles internationally.
“This collaboration with Cruise will enable the creation of new value for mobility and people’s daily lives, which we strive for under Honda’s 2030 Vision of serving people worldwide with the joy of expanding their life’s potential,” said Takahiro Hachigo, President & Representative Director, Honda Motor Co. “Through active collaboration with partners who share the same interests and aspirations, Honda will continue to accelerate the realization of our autonomous vehicle MaaS business in Japan.”
GM and Honda have also been jointly developing electric cars while seeking to share vehicle platforms and cooperate in research and development in North America.
“Cruise’s mission to provide safer, cleaner and more accessible transportation is not limited to the US,” said Dan Ammann, CEO, Cruise. “These are major changes that are needed almost everywhere in the world, and this is a small, but symbolic step with Honda on our global journey.
Cruise is regarded as a leading developer of autonomous vehicles in the U.S., but it has zero presence internationally. Getting its vehicles up and running in Japan with Honda could, perhaps, help rationalize Cruise’s $30 billion valuation.
Yesterday, Cruise raised $2 billion in new equity funding to raise its valuation. Founded in 2013, the company has now raised about $7.3 billion. GM, Honda and other institutional investors joined the round, as well as new investor Microsoft, which contributed an undisclosed amount. With the deal, Cruise will now use Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing service for the data generated from its autonomous vehicles.
In October 2018, Honda announced it would invest $2.75 billion in Cruise. It invested $750 million immediately, while the remaining $2 billion will be spread out over 12 years. GM acquired Cruise in 2016 for about $1 billion. Cruise secured a $2.25 billion investment from the SoftBank Vision Fund in 2018. Then in May 2019 it raised another $1.15 billion, which then valued the company at $19 billion.
Cruise began testing its autonomous vehicles without a human safety driver behind the wheel in December 2020. An employee is still sitting in the passenger seat with access to an emergency stop button. In mid-2020, Cruise acquired German radar manufacturer Astyx. In November, it announced a partnership with Walmart to test an autonomous delivery service that will start in early 2021 in Scottsdale, Arizona.