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How impressed has Walmart been with its last-mile delivery tests with Cruise? So impressed that Walmart just invested in the San Francisco-based developer of autonomous vehicles. Walmart, and several institutional investors, added $750 million to Cruise’s recent funding round, extending it to $2.75 billion.
In November 2020, Cruise and Walmart announced a self-driving delivery pilot in Scottsdale, Ariz. using Cruise’s all-electric fleet. Under the pilot program, customers can place an order from their local Walmart and have it delivered via one of Cruise’s autonomous cars. While the vehicles operate autonomously, a human safety operator will remain behind the wheel. While Cruise has focused most of its efforts on robotaxis, it also completed a delivery pilot with DoorDash in San Francisco in 2019.
Walmart has tested and used a variety of robots over the years. Some worked out better than others. For example, Walmart abruptly ended a contract in November 2020 with Bossa Nova Robotics, a developer of robots for inventory purposes. It was a significant reversal from plans announced in January 2020 to expand deployments of Bossa Nova’s robots from 500 to 1,000 stores.
While Walmart didn’t disclose the size of its investment, it should be viewed as a major sign of confidence in Cruise’s technology. Walmart joins the $2 billion equity round announced in January 2021. Microsoft was also part of that round. Cruise said its valuation is now more than $30 billion.
John Furner, president and CEO of Walmart U.S., wrote the following on Walmart’s blog:
“Over the years we’ve been doing a lot to learn more about the role autonomous vehicles can play in retail, and we’ve seen enough to know it’s no longer a question of if they’ll be scaled, but when.
“Today we’re taking the next step in our work with autonomous vehicles by making an investment in Cruise, the San Francisco-based company enabling a self-driving future through their all-electric fleet of self-driving cars. The investment will aid our work toward developing a last mile delivery ecosystem that’s fast, low-cost and scalable.
“We began working with Cruise in November of last year developing a delivery pilot in Scottsdale, Arizona. We’ve been impressed with Cruise’s differentiated business model, unique technology and unmatched driverless testing. We also value our shared commitment to a zero emissions future.
“As delivery has become a staple in our customers’ lives, we’re focused on growing our last mile ecosystem in a way that’s beneficial for everyone – customers, business and the planet. With their all-electric fleet powered by 100% renewable energy, Cruise is a natural partner as we work to take collective action on climate change. We’re doing this not only in our own operations where we are targeting zero emissions by 2040 and have set a goal to be powered by 100% renewable energy by 2035, but also throughout the supply chain and our environmental initiative, Project Gigaton, one of the largest private sector consortiums for climate action.
“This investment is a marker for us – it shows our commitment to bringing the benefit of self-driving cars to our customers and business. We’re excited to join Cruise’s already impressive partner and investor ecosystem with the likes of GM, Honda and Microsoft as we work toward pioneering this emerging technology.”
Walmart has worked with other autonomous vehicle companies, too, including Gatik, Nuro, Udelv and Waymo. A Walmart spokeswoman said it will continue to work with other autonomous vehicle companies despite the Cruise investment.
Cruise headed to Dubai
It’s been quite a week for Cruise. It announced a partnership with Dubai on Monday to become the first to operate autonomous taxis in the United Arab Emirates city. Cruise could roll out a fleet of its Origin ride-sharing vehicle in Dubai as early at 2023, it said. Dubai wants 4,000 robotaxis operating in the city by 2030. This deal makes Cruise the sole autonomous vehicle partner in Dubai until at least 2029.
Cruise is starting to expand internationally. It announced earlier this year that its vehicles will be heading to Japan in 2021 as part of testing with financial backer Honda. Details about where, when and how many are unknown at this point. But the move deepen the partnership between GM and Honda that started in 2018.
In mid-March, Cruise acquired Voyage, an autonomous vehicle startup was testing its autonomous Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans in two retirement communities. While it won’t happen immediately, Cruise will phase out the operations within the retirement communities.
In December 2020, Cruise began testing in San Francisco without a human safety driver behind the wheel. A Cruise employee is still sitting in the passenger seat with access to an emergency stop button, but it has to start somewhere. Cruise has driven more than 2 million miles on the streets of San Francisco over a five-year period.
Earlier this week, Nuro launched an autonomous pizza delivery service in Houston Domino’s. Select customers who place an online order – on certain days and times – from the Domino’s in Woodland Heights can have their food delivered by Nuro’s R2 robot.