In a recent set of press releases, Honda and General motors announced a partnership to bring autonomous vehicles to Japan. This builds on both an existing partnership and some controversies GM’s Cruise autonomous vehicles division has faced recently.
This Isn’t GM & Honda’s First Rodeo
Before we get into the details of GM’s partnership with Honda, let’s briefly review what they’ve already been doing together.
It doesn’t seem like it’s been very long ago that we called Honda “boneheaded” for not doing EVs right. Almost three years ago, Honda cut the MDX hybrid out of the lineup, and went to straight gas. The company also took used Honda Claritys off the road and crushed them like GM did with the EV1. Plus, the very cool and retro Honda e isn’t coming to the United States. Damn.
I have no idea whether Honda execs read my articles, but if they do, I apparently got the point across (which is good, because my Japanese isn’t great). Just a few months later, Honda’s execs decided to make a major course correction and even set some EV goals. But, it didn’t take them long to figure out that the company wasn’t going to be able to make those goals alone. So, Honda partnered with GM and paid to use the Ultium platform for at least two vehicles: the upcoming Prologue and the new electric Acura ZDX.
Eventually, Honda’s plan is to develop the company’s own EV platforms, and eventually stop hiring GM to help the company build cars. But, until then, the companies are going to work together. But, this new partnership shows that Honda might be in for a longer relationship with GM. If they’re going to team up on an AV company, who knows what else might happen.
“Honda has been a key partner with Cruise for several years and we’re excited to offer safer and more accessible transportation to customers in Tokyo.” said Kyle Vogt, Founder and CEO of Cruise. “All of our work scaling in dense urban US markets will position us well to address the huge opportunity for autonomous vehicles in Japan.”
In short, the companies signed an agreement to form a new company during the first half of 2024, but that’s paperwork. The actual action begins in early 2026, when actual rides will start happening.
The companies will work together to offer rides in copies of GM’s Cruise Origin car, a vehicle built specifically for ride-sharing. The Cruise Origin is a driverless vehicle with no driver’s seat or steering wheel. It offers a spacious cabin that can be as private as a personally-owned vehicle, accommodating 6 people who can ride facing-to-face. This self-driving ride-hail service will provide a unique mobility experience in Japan, catering to various customers such as business people, families, and visitors.
“GM has always been invested in defining the future of transportation and that’s more true today than ever.” said Mary Barra, CEO and Chair of GM. “The benefits of AVs — from safety to accessibility — are too profound to ignore and through this important partnership with Cruise and Honda, we’re bringing forward innovation that leverages our expertise in cutting-edge software and hardware to help more people around the world get where they need to go.”
Like today’s Cruise app in the United States that uses modified Chevy Bolts, passengers will hail the cars with an app, and the car will take them on a ride. In early 2026, the companies are set to introduce a driverless ride-hail service in central Tokyo. The service will commence with a fleet of dozens of Cruise Origins, later expanding to 500. Later, the companies aim to extend and scale the service to encompass areas beyond central Tokyo.
The companies say that the service is about more than just being first in Japan. The country is facing some serious transportation challenges, including taxi and bus driver shortages. So, autonomous vehicles, even in a limited geographical area, can make a big difference. To this end, they also plan on working in close cooperation with government agencies and other stakeholders.
In other words, they want to take a much more cooperative and socially-responsible approach than companies like Uber took with ride-sharing.
“Honda is striving to create the ‘joy and freedom of mobility.’ Through our driverless ridehail service, we will enable customers in Japan to experience a new value of mobility, improve the quality of their mobility experiences and offer the joy of mobility.” said Toshihiro Mibe, Global CEO of Honda. “This will be a major step toward the realization of an advanced mobility society. Providing this service in central Tokyo where the traffic environment is complex will be a great challenge, however, by working jointly with Cruise and GM, Honda will exert further efforts to make it a reality.”
Does This Signal A Longer-Term Partnership
One big thing from this story is that Honda played a role in developing the Cruise Origin, something I hadn’t read before. GM’s old press releases didn’t emphasize this fact much, but older Honda press releases that I managed to somehow miss show that Honda had been partnering with Cruise for years (since at least 2018) to develop autonomous vehicles.
Not only does this make their EV partnership make more sense, but it raises questions about the long-term nature of Honda and GM’s relationship. Will they continue to partner on EV technology on a longer-term basis? Or will the companies mostly focus on autonomy long-term?
Another important question about the long-term is how well Cruise is doing. If Tesla’s woes teach us anything it’s that autonomous vehicles are a lot easier said than done. Everyone thought they’d have the problem licked years ago, and those pesky edge cases seem to be everywhere. Last year, the company’s vehicles caused a major (but cute) traffic jam. This year, the vehicles had to start working half-time as regulators got angry about crashes.
Will the companies be able to resolve these problems to the satisfaction of Tokyo’s authorities? Or, will they manage to bungle it and need to wait until sometime after 2026 to get the job done?
All images provided by Honda and GM.