General Motors backed autonomous vehicle startup Cruise has reportedly scored $2.75 billion from its last round of funding, with Walmart again taking a particular interest in the company. The multinational retail corporation previously participated in a pilot program where Arizona-based shoppers could call upon a Cruise AV to have their groceries delivered. While just one of several autonomous programs Walmart is involved with, the relationship with Cruise must be in fairly good shape to throw that kind of money into a business that seems to have missed more deadlines than it has kept — even if that does seem to be the trend for AV startups.
The funding has managed to elevate Cruise’s valuation to more than $30 billion, though its January deal with Microsoft also played a significant role. A couple of months ago, General Motors announced a strategic relationship with the tech firm aimed at commercializing AVs while providing technical support for Cruise. That deal came with a new equity investment of more than $2 billion, which Microsoft led.
“Our mission to bring safer, better, and more affordable transportation to everyone isn’t just a tech race – it’s also a trust race,” Cruise CEO Dan Ammann said at the time. “Microsoft, as the gold standard in the trustworthy democratization of technology, will be a force multiplier for us as we commercialize our fleet of self-driving, all-electric, shared vehicles.”
For those keeping score, this is the third automotive firm we’ve seen deploy the phrase “democratization of technology” since the start of 2021. But it’s the first time we’ve seen the military term “force multiplier” used to make it seem like this will be the thing that finally gives AV development the kick in the pants it needs.
According to Reuters, Walmart will not be suspending any existing partnerships it has with other AV companies. In fact, the business sees all of this as a way to see which organizations (e.g. Cruise, Waymo, Nuro, etc.) have the most to offer and how that might be integrated into the business.
The retailer is preparing for a future when shoppers don’t have to drive to the store and is trying out a number of different technologies, including drones. The cost of getting deliveries to customers’ doorsteps across the nation is often prohibitive, and it’s a big reason why Walmart’s domestic e-commerce business is still losing money.
Walmart’s test to use Cruise’s all-electric self-driving vehicles to deliver groceries from a store in Scottsdale, Ariz., is still in the early phases and hasn’t been expanded to other cities, the spokeswoman said.
Efforts to develop self-driving vehicles have picked up pace in recent months. California has approved more robotaxi testing on public roads, granting its first commercial permit for autonomous-vehicle deliveries last month to Nuro.
The investment is the latest sign of consolidation in the self-driving sector as big companies like Honda Motor Co., Walmart and Microsoft move in. Zoox Inc. sold to Amazon.com Inc. last year, and Cruise itself recently acquired autonomous-vehicle startup Voyage, which operates a service in retirement communities.
“We are focused on our path to commercialization right now but the IPOs happening in the space right now are a great indication of the strength of the industry and the opportunity self-driving presents,” the Cruise spokeswoman told the outlet.[Image: General Motors]