Self-driving cars may seem like some science fiction dream, but there are already companies using the technology in a limited capacity. Automakers are rushing to develop their own brand and hoping to corner the market. The latest contender: General Motors.
The American automaker recently purchased Cruise Automation, a San Francisco-based self-driving vehicle company. The purchase marks the biggest investment in Detroit’s bid to lap California tech companies in the race to build the first practical self-driving consumer automobile.
Cruise doesn’t have a lot of experience, but they do have a lot of upside. The company was started in 2013 and now has 40 employees and a piggy bank full of $20 million in venture capital. So, how much did GM pay for the privilege of piggybacking on Cruise Automation’s work? Upwards of $1 billion, according to at least one media report.
No timeframe has been given by GM execs as to when they hope to have a self-driving car ready for the marketplace, or even when they may show one to somebody not wearing a GM ID badge. At this point, they are just saying ASAP.
While it may be unfair to expect a specific timeframe so early in the operation, it’s a good bet GM has some idea how close Cruise was to making this dream a reality. And it also highlights one of the most important rules in debuting new technologies. Being first carries a huge PR buzz potential. Sure, you can be the first to make it “affordable” or “mass produced” … but doing it first earns all the press.
That’s not to say GM isn’t already teasing news outlets with their plans. Included in many releases are reports that GM is working on self-driving electric vehicles that could compete with cab companies and Uber for ride sharing dollars.
Most U.S. automakers continue to insist their interest in self-driving cars does not indicate worry that their hold on a multi-billion dollar market is slipping away. People still love driving their own cars, they insist, so no worries there. We’re just excited about new possibilities.
But, of course, every successful new enterprise by definition replaces something it makes obsolete just by existing. Care to wager when that might be? GM certainly is.