Honda joins forces with GM's Cruise to develop autonomous vehicles

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San Francisco (AFP)

Japanese carmaker Honda has joined forces with the General Motors tech startup Cruise to develop autonomous vehicles as the race to market self-driving cars heats up, the companies announced Wednesday.

The investment by Honda could partnership expand market access for the new cars once they are developed. The Japanese government hopes to showcase self-driving cars when Tokyo hosts the Summer Olympics in 2020.

With a $2.75 billion commitment in equity and shared development costs over 12 years, Honda joins Japanese conglomerate Softbank in backing the GM venture to create a multi-purpose vehicle that can be manufactured in high volume for use worldwide, the US auto giant said.

Major automakers, start-ups and tech firms are racing to develop truly autonomous vehicles, which the industries see as the next frontier in personal mobility.

"As is becoming increasingly apparent, this is an effort that requires very, very significant resources to pull off and we're thrilled to have Honda join forces with us," GM President Dan Ammann said during an investor call.

Ammann said the developers were working "as quickly as we can" to deploy the new technology but did not say when this could occur.

"What we're giving you here is just an early glimpse of what we think the future looks like," he said.

- The race for driverless -

With Softbank's $2.25 billion investment announced in May, Cruise is now valued at more than $14 billion, according to GM.

The company, in which GM now holds an 85 percent stake, says it is currently testing driverless cars on open roads in Arizona, California and Michigan, "navigating some of the most challenging and unpredictable driving environments."

The company maintains a research-and-development facility in San Francisco.

The vehicle to be developed with Honda will have no steering wheel or other manual controls when deployed, according to GM.

While fully autonomous vehicles remain a theoretical goal at this point, developing technologies promises swift changes to the market for consumer and commercial vehicles.

The efforts have suffered setbacks especially after some crashes during testing, including one fatality.

Uber briefly suspended tests of self-driving cars in March following a fatal accident in Arizona. It resumed testing in Pennsylvania in July, but with a driver behind the wheel at all times, the company said.

One of self-driving tech firm Waymo's minivans crashed into a highway median in June, reportedly after its human driver manning the wheel fell asleep.

GM says it is working to eliminate crashes, emissions and congestion entirely.

Ford Motor Company on Tuesday unveiled a proposed standard it said all manufacturers should adopt for autonomous vehicles to signal their intentions -- like yielding or preparing to stop -- to other users of the road.

Ride-hailing service Uber last month also announced it would spend $154 million over five years to expand an existing Toronto laboratory that is developing artificial intelligence for use in self-driving cars.