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General Motors to Buy Cruise Automation in Push for Self-Driving Cars

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Dan Ammann, right, president of General Motors, with the co-founders of Cruise Automation, Kyle Vogt, center, and Daniel Kan. Credit General Motors

DETROIT — General Motors on Friday said that it was acquiring the software firm Cruise Automation as part of its larger effort to develop fully autonomous vehicles.

G.M., the largest automaker in the United States, has been aggressively expanding its portfolio of new businesses dedicated to driverless cars and other personal mobility options like ride-hailing services.

The company has invested $ 500 million in a strategic alliance with the ride service Lyft, and established its own brand, called Maven, for its car-hailing initiatives. While G.M. did not disclose the terms of the latest deal, two people with knowledge of the acquisition said the automaker agreed to pay more than $ 1 billion in cash and stock for Cruise.

It would be a rich payday for Cruise and its investors, which include venture firms such as Spark Capital and Felicis Ventures. Cruise was valued at $ 90 million in a fund-raising round late last year before the acquisition, the people said.

Founded in 2013, Cruise has been successful in adapting conventional cars to operate on highways with self-driving features. The company installs sensors, computer equipment and other devices that can control steering, braking and acceleration.

Other automakers, including Tesla, Audi and Mercedes-Benz, are also rapidly adding equipment that allows vehicles to partly drive themselves. And the technology giant Google is in advanced stages of developing cars that function without any driver involvement.

Industry analysts said the G.M. deal underscored how competitive the race toward autonomous vehicles had become.

“Like it or not, autonomous cars are coming, and coming fast,” said Akshay Anand, an analyst with the auto research firm Kelley Blue Book.

G.M. executives said the acquisition of Cruise was a critical building block in its autonomous-driving efforts. “We intend to invest significantly to further grow the talent base and capabilities,” said Mark L. Reuss, G.M.’s chief of global product development.

Kyle Vogt, the founder of Cruise, said that joining G.M. would accelerate development of his company’s technology. “This is a groundbreaking step toward rapidly commercializing autonomous vehicle technology,” said Mr. Vogt.

While automakers press forward with new technology, federal officials are also stepping up their efforts to regulate driverless cars and set appropriate safety standards.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said on Friday that regulators would hold public meetings this spring in California and Washington to gather information on potential guidelines for autonomous vehicles.

“We are witnessing a revolution in auto technology that has the potential to save thousands of lives,” said Mr. Foxx. “In order to achieve that potential, we need to establish guidelines for manufacturers that clearly outline how we expect autonomous vehicles to function.”

President Obama’s proposed budget calls for spending nearly $ 4 billion over the next decade on advancing autonomous vehicle technology, including setting up pilot programs in several communities nationwide.

A recent report prepared for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found few existing regulatory hurdles to conventional cars equipped with autonomous technology.

However, the agency said it needed guidelines for more advanced vehicle designs that, for example, may eliminate steering wheels and brake pedals from autonomous models.

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