Jump-started by tax incentives, General Motors’ autonomous vehicle program — er, “personal mobility” initiative — ratcheted up another gear yesterday with an announcement that it would invest $14 million in a new R&D facility in San Francisco and add 1,100 jobs to its Cruise Automation division.
“The hiring spree, which will be done over five years, would represent an eightfold increase in Cruise’s staff, underscoring the substantial investment GM and other car companies are making to get autonomous vehicles on the road. GM has more than tripled its Cruise head count since the acquisition, to about 150 people,” reports Mike Colias for the Wall Street Journal.
“Expanding our team at Cruise Automation and linking them with our global engineering talent is another important step in our work to redefine the future of personal mobility,” GM chairman and CEO Mary Barra says in a statement. “Self-driving technology holds enormous benefits to society in the form of increased safety and access to transportation. Running our autonomous vehicle program as a start-up is giving us the speed we need to continue to stay at the forefront of development of these technologies and the market applications.”
GM acquired Cruise Automation for $581 million in March 2016. “The start-up specializes in the software needed to operate self-driving cars,” reports Eric D. Lawrence for the Detroit Free Press. “GM CFO Chuck Stevens said recently that GM expects to sink about $150 million per quarter, or $600 million this year, into autonomous vehicle development.”
Adding to the win-win-win nature of the announcement, “GM’s millions will help rehabilitate a brownfield site in San Francisco,” Jim Lynch reports for the Detroit News. The move will more than double Cruise Automation’s research and development space. Cruise workers could move into the new location by the end of the year.
“GM’s investment is further proof that California is leading the nation in the design, engineering and deployment of autonomous vehicles,” says Panorea Avdis, director of the California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, in the GM news release.
Not that GM has been idle before the capital infusion. It “is testing more than 50 Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicles with self-driving technology on public roads in San Francisco, the Detroit metropolitan area and Scottsdale, Arizona,” Reuters’ David Shepardson reports.
“Data from California regulators show Cruise logged about 10,000 miles of autonomous driving on California roads during the year ended Nov. 30, second to Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo unit, which recorded 635,868 miles,” the WSJ’s Colias adds. “The software development done at Cruise is being integrated with GM’s massive engineering center in Detroit, though company executives say they have been careful to keep the Cruise operation as a stand-alone entity to nurture a startup mentality.”
Other automakers are also hotly pursuing efforts to deny Gen Beyond Z the joy of ever taking a road test.
“In February, Ford Motor said it planned to invest $1 billion over the next five years in Argo AI, an artificial intelligence company, as part of its own push to develop self-driving cars,” reports Neal E. Boudette for the New York Times. “Ford has also vowed to begin production of a fully automated car — with no steering wheel and no pedals — by 2021. Similar efforts are underway at Audi, BMW and other car companies.”
How long before we’re telling dinner guests to “snooze safely on the way home,” do you think?