October 20, 2023
General Motors and Honda have signed an agreement that will see purpose-built Cruise self-driving taxis on the streets of Tokyo by 2026.
The companies have formally announced that they have agreed to a memorandum of understanding to establish a joint venture (JV) that will launch the commercial ride-hailing service in just three years.
What’s particularly noteworthy is that it’s Cruise’s Origin autonomous vehicle (AV) that will be used. Although the GM subsidiary is currently operating in a handful of U.S. cities, most notably San Francisco, it is doing so with a fleet of modified Chevrolet Bolts fitted with autonomous driving tech.
In contrast, the Origin, which can seat six, has been developed from the ground up to be self-driving, and as such has no driver’s seat or steering wheel. In the U.S., the AV has been tested in Austin and San Francisco but is not yet fully approved by the regulatory authorities – although Cruise is confident this will happen soon.
To facilitate the Japanese JV, GM says it will manufacture approximately 500 Origins at Factory ZERO Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly in Michigan, although operations in Tokyo are likely to commence with merely dozens of Origins rather than hundreds.
Cruise has long targeted scaling of its operations, and in 2022 CEO Kyle Vogt predicted that things would get “really interesting on the growth side,” in 2023, saying that the Origin would “light up in many more markets.”
The decision to target Japan is no surprise. As Vogt pointed out: “There is an important and growing societal need for safe and accessible transportation in Japan that autonomous vehicles can provide a solution for.
“In addition to societal impact, the business opportunity is also exciting, as Japan represents one of the largest potential autonomous vehicle ride-hail markets in the world, with many dense, highly populated cities that have high transportation needs.”
Earlier this year, Cruise started laying the groundwork for an assault on the country as it confirmed that it was testing its vehicles in tandem with Honda in Tochigi, a prefecture north of Tokyo.
The new service will operate on traditional ride-hailing lines, with customers using a dedicated app on their smartphones to order an Origin on their smartphone, which will then pick them up at their specific location. Payment will also be completed on the app.
Initial testing in Tokyo is likely to be carried out by Bolts. But once the commercial operation is up and running in the center of the city, the companies say they want to launch in suburban areas, with the ultimate aim to be active in several locations across Japan, which has been one of the most proactive countries in the world in terms of encouraging autonomous transport, introducing legislation early.
Honda is expected to play a key role in collaborating with authorities as the new service seeks to establish itself.
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