Honda will soon import autonomous vehicles developed by General Motors to Japan and plans to use them to help launch a mobility services operation there.
The move to ship the self-driving vehicles, including a modified Chevrolet Bolt EV and the new Cruise Origin shuttle, comes as part of Honda’s expanding alliance with GM. The two have announced a series of projects and joint ventures covering battery and hydrogen fuel-cell technology, as well as autonomous vehicles, and have hinted that other alliances could follow.
Honda last year announced a major investment in GM’s Cruise automated vehicle subsidiary. It was joined, earlier this month, by Microsoft which led a new, $2 billion investment round for Cruise that could make use of the Seattle tech giant’s extensive computing expertise.
The Japanese automaker has not revealed how many vehicles it will ship to Japan but did confirm that there will be two different models in the project, including a modified version of the Chevy Bolt EV, the all-electric hatchback introduced by GM in 2016. Redubbed the Cruise AV, it has been used extensively to test out the self-driving technology being developed by San Francisco-based Cruise and is being updated to allow for completely driverless operation.
The other vehicle is the toaster-shaped Cruise Origin unveiled almost exactly a year ago at the start-up’s headquarters. It has been positioned as the potential anchor of a mobility services company and could be configured as both a mini jitney or a cargo hauler, the company has noted.
It will be operated by Honda Mobility Solutions Co., a subsidiary launched last February.
Specific timing has also been left open. The Bolt already is in production at a GM plant in Orion Township, Michigan, north of Detroit. Production of the Cruise Origin won’t start, however, until the completion of a $2 billion changeover at a second plant on the Detroit border. The facility, recently renamed Factory Zero, will serve as one of the primary bases of production for the Detroit automaker’s ambitious electrification program.
Honda will use the Bolt for testing and then introduce a mobility services operation based around the Cruise Origin. That would suggest plans to import multiple versions of the shuttle to Japan, though a timeframe for the project has not been revealed.
According to a report by Reuters, “Honda spokeswoman Yu Kitagawa said Honda was discussing details and that it was too early to say how many Cruise vehicles will be used or when the programs begin.”
Traditionally intent on maintaining its independence, Honda delivered a shock to the industry when, in January 2017, it announced it would partner with General Motors to set up a plant in Michigan to produce next-generation fuel-cell technology. The initial plan indicated Honda would use the hydrogen-based hardware for future versions of its Clarity FCV model. GM initially discussed stationary applications but last week said it would provide fuel-cell technology to truckmaker Navistar.
In June 2018 Honda and GM said they would team up – again – this time to work on what they hope will become the batteries powering the next generation of electric vehicles.
They have subsequently confirmed that GM will provide the platform and batteries Honda will use to underpin two upcoming battery-electric vehicles.
In October 2018 the two automakers revealed a third partnership, Honda this time set to invest $2.75 billion in GM’s Cruise subsidiary.