GM buys self-driving car kit startup Cruise, plans to use tech to make driverless cars

General Motors (GM) announced today it plans to snap up Cruise Automation, a San Francisco-based startup making sensors that turn regular vehicles into ones that can drive themselves, for an undisclosed sum.

The move is part of a big bet for GM in the driverless car industry as several of the major car manufacturers are now racing to implement this type of technology.

GM recently formed an internal autonomous vehicle development team and entered into a strategic alliance with rideshare service Lyft earlier this year – adding a whopping $500 million to Lyft’s latest funding round to help build a connected network for self-driving cars.

The Cruise acquisition will help further GM’s automation goals. Though Cruise will remain operationally independent, GM President Dan Ammann tells TechCrunch the car maker intends to integrate Cruise’s technology within its fleet of vehicle brands as soon as possible.

“The next step is to make sure we bring the full resources to the table to accelerate what Cruise is doing and integrate into the GM vehicle system,” Ammann said over the phone.

Cruise has grown from products for semi-autonomous conversion systems since its launch in 2013 to building “full stack” driverless technology over the last year. The startup is now poised to grow and was seeking ways to rapidly scale, according to Cruise founder Kyle Vogt.

That’s where GM comes in. Other vehicle companies working on autonomous technology such as Tesla and Uber have chosen to continue building on their own and GM’s rival Ford has long partnered with robotics company Velodyne LiDAR for its self driving systems. But Vogt believes GM’s committed resources will help his fledgling startup get there faster.

Just how much faster? GM sold close to 10 million cars globally in 2014, more than 3 million of them in the U.S. Google has said its driverless car project won’t be ready for market for five to 10 years. GM could add Cruise’s technology to its latest models and have them ready for market in the next couple of years.

“We believe this is the best path forward to implement cruise tech at a massive scale…this is a ground-breaking and necessary step toward rapidly commercializing autonomous vehicle technology,” Vogt said.

The acquisition is not a done deal and is still subject to customary closing conditions, but according to GM and Cruise, it’s on track to close in the second quarter of this year.

Neither GM or Cruise wanted to disclose terms of the deal. Cruise has so far raised close to $19 million in Series A funding from investors such as Spark Capital and Sam Altman.