Since GM, dozens of automakers and Tier 1 suppliers — including BMW, Hyundai, Bosch and Lear — have opened similar centers in Israel to tap into the talent here. Ford Motor Co., which acquired Israeli computer vision company SAIPS in 2016, formally opened its own r&d center in Tel Aviv last week.
The boom is driven by culture and necessity.
Near-universal conscription into the Israel Defense Forces has instilled a sense of maturity and leadership among Israeli entrepreneurs. And many autonomous technologies, from cybersecurity systems to radar and lidar sensors, have their roots in military applications.
The culture that encourages risk- taking, local leaders say, stems from a historical lack of natural resources and an ingrained belief that Israelis can overcome challenges by creating something where nothing exists.
"We go after the impossible," Golan said. "This is how we're educated from childhood."
While the country produces talent in multiple areas, the auto industry has become a major player in recent years.
Since 2013, some $6 billion has been invested in high-tech mobility startups, according to data from EcoMotion, a nonprofit that launched an annual mobility conference in Tel Aviv that year. Since then, the number of mobility startups has exploded to 644 from 87, organizers say. They make up about 10 percent of the country's total startups.
"We're becoming this mobility hub that everyone comes to brainstorm, test and develop," Orlie Dahan, EcoMotion's executive director, told Automotive News. "You can Skype and fly in from time to time, but there's nothing like being close and on the ground."