The move by SoftBank's $100-billion Vision Fund is one of the largest investments to date in self-driving technology by one of the highest-profile global technology investors.
GM is one of the more ambitious players in the self-driving auto space. SoftBank's investment valued the business at more than $11 billion - well above the roughly $1 billion that GM paid to acquire the startup two years ago. And on Thursday Waymo announced that it will purchase 62,000 minivans from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles as part of its autonomous initiative.
The investment, GM said Thursday, will provide financial backing for the automaker's plan to begin launching self-driving vehicles on a volume basis in 2019. The company unveiled plans in November to launch an on-demand ride hailing service, without drivers, by 2019.
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A federal filing detailing the SoftBank Vision deal does address the potential for an initial public offering for GM Cruise.
"Our Cruise and GM teams together have made tremendous progress over the last two years", Mary T. Barra, GM's chairman and chief executive, said in a statement.
RBC Capital Markets analyst Joseph Spak said the deal affirmed that GM was one of the top contenders to deploy self-driving ride hailing. "GM has a meaningful seat at the table", he said. With this infusion of almost $3.5 billion, GM says this will help its Cruise unit reach commercialization by 2019.
"All else equal, marking-to-market the GM Cruise valuation to $11.5 billion would take our GM SOTP valuation to $62 from $56 now, suggesting more than 50 percent upside from the current price (before SOTP discount)".
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"Given that we do not expect any additional near-term investments to value the Cruise assets, we believe GM's stock will more closely track the fundamentals of the traditional automotive business, which we remain cautious on". At the time that Cruise AVs are ready for commercial deployment, the Vision Fund will complete the second tranche of $1.35 billion, subject to regulatory approval. "We found it notable that Cruise will be a reporting segment starting 2Q 2018".
In 2016, GM stepped into the autonomous driving scene in a big way by acquiring Cruise Automation, a startup with Tesla Autopilot engineering talent and founded by Twitch co-founder Kyle Vogt.
Many self-driving vehicle contenders expect ride hailing services will be the main users of the technology.
Uber Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi on Wednesday also said he was in talks to use Waymo technology on the Uber network, a sign of how alliances and partnerships are still being formed.
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In exchange for the investment, SoftBank will hold a 19.6 percent stake in GM Cruise. He said the firm chose to invest in GM and Cruise "for several reasons", including the automaker's capability to quickly manufacture the vehicles at scale and "seamless partnership" between the Detroit automaker and San Francisco-based Cruise.