DETROIT — Despite spending more than $1 billion to acquire and expand Cruise Automation, General Motors is keeping its distance — both figuratively and literally — from the autonomous-vehicle startup.
The two companies operate in different spheres: GM, rooted in Detroit and drawing on its century of manufacturing experience, focuses on the production of the test vehicles and integration of the self-driving hardware, while Cruise, based in San Francisco, develops and refines the software that controls the systems.
The unique relationship was described by GM CEO Mary Barra and Doug Parks, head of GM autonomous technology and vehicle execution, during an event last week to mark the production of 130 second-generation, self-driving Chevy Bolt EVs at GM's Orion Township, Mich., factory.
"Cruise Automation is running as a startup," Barra said. "Not only are they responsible for the technology, but they're responsible for the commercialization — so the entire business."
For GM, that means resisting the temptation shared by many automakers historically to control and fully integrate the companies they acquire. Company executives say it's a needed change as the legacy auto industry learns to work more constructively with Silicon Valley technology partners. And it spares the two companies the time and disruption of integrating two very different corporate cultures.
Cruise, for its part, keeps a low profile, occasionally releasing un-narrated footage of its self-driving Bolt running tests on the streets of San Francisco. The videos feature the Cruise logo, identifying it as "a General Motors company," and a link to its own recruiting site.
Cruise's CEO and co-founder, Kyle Vogt, rarely gives interviews and wasn't available to comment for this report. Before the GM acquisition in March 2016, Cruise was developing $10,000 kits to retrofit vehicles with autonomous capability.
"There's a lot of talent at Cruise, and one of the best things about Cruise is the speed at which they operate," said Parks. "So when we acquired them ... the last thing we wanted to do is squelch that."