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Here’s what SoftBank’s investment into GM’s Cruise means for the self-driving race

Some takeaways from the deal and interviews with SoftBank, GM and Cruise execs.

General Motors’ next generation of self-driving cars General Motors

SoftBank’s $2 billion investment on Thursday into Cruise, GM’s self-driving subsidiary, triggers a bunch of questions about the feverish race in Silicon Valley to master autonomous vehicle technology.

The deal, on its face, is simple: SoftBank’s Vision Fund will eventually acquire about a 20 percent equity position in Cruise, which GM bought in 2016, for $2.25 billion over two payments. GM is also putting about another $1 billion into the division.

But there are a lot of possible implications for SoftBank, GM and Cruise that will be answered over the next decade.

Here are some takeaways from the deal and interviews with SoftBank, GM and Cruise execs:

Cruise’s future as a GM property is less certain.

After the deal closes, GM will no longer be the sole owner of the self-driving startup. On one hand, according to Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt, that means they’re recreating the startup-like structure of Cruise because the company has new equity to offer. On the other hand, GM would probably consider a few different options to give SoftBank a return on its investment, including eventually selling Cruise, spinning it out as an independent public company or buying back SoftBank’s shares.

Or none of those: After seven years, SoftBank’s shares in Cruise would convert to common stock in GM. “We have seven years to talk about it,” SoftBank partner Michael Ronen told Recode. By then, we should also have a much clearer picture of the reality of self-driving cars, plus early winners and losers.

The cash infusion strengthens Cruise’s position against major competitors like Waymo, which has the seemingly limitless war chest of Alphabet behind it.

Waymo is far and away considered to have the most advanced self-driving technology, and Cruise is trying to keep up.

The investment complicates an already complex web of self-driving partnerships.

SoftBank is an investor in a number of companies with self-driving efforts, including Uber. This could indicate the firm is hedging its bet on the ride-hail behemoth, though Ronen denied that.

“I wouldn’t read it that way at all,” Ronen said. “We have a bunch of investments in and around this space and we’ll have more.”

Just yesterday, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi indicated he would be willing to simply partner with self-driving tech companies or automakers with self-driving efforts as opposed to only building out the technology itself. Khosrowshahi mentioned General Motors by name as a potential partner.

“This whole space, as you well know, is a complex set of relationships,” GM president Dan Ammann told Recode. ”As we navigate through that, we have taken a lot of precautions.”

Ammann declined to specify what those precautions are.

Another complication in the relationships: Ammann sits on the board of Lyft, Uber’s top competitor in the U.S., following a big investment from GM into the company.

This is one of the Vision Fund’s biggest deals, and is another answer to skeptics who say the Vision Fund cannot adequately spend its massive $100 billion fund.

The Vision Fund and a companion fund have already spent $40 billion, in part through public companies. The Vision Fund is still focusing by and large on private startups rather than public companies, Ronen said. But an investment in a big corporation — even if through a private subsidiary — allows them to put money to work quickly.

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