Cruise, the autonomous vehicle unit of General Motors Co., today announced that it has raised $1.35 billion in funding from SoftBank Group Corp.’s Vision Fund.
The funding is part of a $2.25 billion investment that SoftBank originally announced in 2018. Cruise received an initial $900 million tranche within a few months of the investment’s announcement. The GM unit is receiving the remaining $1.35 billion now because it has reached a key business milestone: Cruise has “started operating its fully driverless cars,” co-founder and interim Chief Executive Officer Kyle Vogt wrote in a blog post.
As part of the move, the GM unit today made a ride-hailing service that uses its autonomous vehicles available in San Francisco. Users can sign up for a waitlist through Cruise’s website and booking autonomous taxis will initially be free, TechCrunch reported.
Cruise’s autonomous vehicle fleet consists mainly of several hundred electric Chevy Bolt cars that have been equipped with an autonomous driving system. Each Chevy Bolt features more than 40 sensors that enable it to detect objects such as other vehicles from distances of up to several hundred feet, Cruise says. The onboard autonomous driving system uses machine learning algorithms to turn data from the sensors into driving decisions.
Cruise’s long-term plans in the ride-hailing market center on the Origin, an upcoming vehicle that it’s developing with parent GM. The Origin is a van built specifically for autonomous driving use cases that has no steering or pedals. Last year, Cruise stated that production of the vehicle is expected to begin in early 2023.
The latest $1.35 billion investment from SoftBank could help Cruise accelerate its efforts to roll out Origin vans to its driverless ride-hailing fleet. The move to open the ride-hailing service to members of the public this week also advances the initiative. The best practices that Cruise will gain from operating the service will prove valuable once the GM unit starts commercialization efforts, which may involve expanding to additional markets.
Cruise, which is valued at more than $30 billion, counts Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo subsidiary as one of its main competitors. Waymo has been operating an autonomous ride-hailing service of its own in Arizona for several years. Last August, the Alphabet unit extended the service to San Francisco.
Waymo has also raised a significant amount of funding over the years. Last June, the Alphabet unit raised $2.5 billion from its parent company and a dozen outside investors to support growth initiatives.