How General Motors could lead the self-driving race

General Motors has made another acquisition to expand its autonomous driving portfolio, signaling a serious commitment to self-driving technology.

AP Photo/Paul Sancya/File
A General Motors Co. logo is shown during a news conference in Detroit, Jan. 25, 2010. General Motors has recently bought self-driving car firm Cruise. Could this be major step forward for automated driving?

General Motors is going full-speed ahead with self-driving cars.

On Friday, the automotive giant announced its plan to acquire San Francisco-based startup Cruise Automation. Cruise focuses on developing autonomous driving technology and is the latest addition in GM’s growing autonomous portfolio.

Until now, the race for self-driving cars has largely taken place outside of Detroit. Silicon Valley tech giants have spent years and billion of dollars creating teams specializing in self-driving cars, while most major car manufacturers have lagged behind. GM’s latest investment could signal that the American car giant is ready to compete in the autonomous arena.

“Fully autonomous vehicles can bring our customers enormous benefits in terms of greater convenience, lower cost and improved safety for their daily mobility needs,” said GM's president, Dan Ammann, in a company press release.

“We are excited to be partnering with GM and believe this is a ground-breaking and necessary step toward rapidly commercializing autonomous vehicle technology,” said Kyle Vogt, founder of Cruise Automation.

The three-year-old startup has had success with aftermarket kits designed to work with specific Audi car models, the A4 and S4, a $10,000 add-on with a sensor on top of the car and a computer in the trunk, reports ComputerWorld.

The acquisition terms are still unknown, but rumors and estimations place the deal at $1 billion or more. Without revealing numbers, GM spokesman Kevin Kelly told Fortune the Detroit giant planned on rapidly expanding the Cruise team, starting with 10 new job openings already posted on the startup’s website.

Cruise is only the latest in a string of GM's automated driving investments. In January, the car company invested $500 million to partner with Lyft Inc., a ride-hailing service and competitor to Uber, to develop a fleet of autonomous cars that will provide short-term transportation to passengers. Previous investments include technology from Sidecar Technologies Inc. and GM's own car-sharing service Maven.

Despite GM's push, Silicon Valley maintains a comfortable lead in the self-driving race, with companies like Tesla Motors, Apple Inc, and Alphabet (parent company of Google) making the biggest advances in self-driving capabilities.

All three have developed extensive in-house divisions dedicated to autonomous cars that are already showing practical applications.

Near the end of 2015, Tesla pushed updates on its existing fleet of cars that allows vehicles to largely drive on their own, including changing lanes, in certain conditions.

GM is not the only major car companies getting into the self-driving game. In January, Kia announced its own line of self-driving cars, available in 2030, and last fall Volvo unveiled a new line of fully-autonomous cars hitting the roads for testing in 2017.

IHS Automotive predicted in January 2014 that self-driving cars with driver controls would be widely available around 2025 and self-driving "only" cars would arrive around 2030. If their predictions are correct, 3.5 million self-driving cars would be driving in North America by 2035.

“There are several benefits from self-driving cars to society, drivers, and pedestrians,” said Egil Juliussen, an analyst for IHS Automotive. “Accident rates will plunge to near zero for SDCs, although other cars will crash into SDCs, but as the market share of SDCs on the highway grows, overall accident rates will decline steadily.”

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