A top General Motors official is taking on a new role that underlines the auto industry’s intense push to develop and commercialize self-driving cars.
The official, Dan Ammann, will give up the job of G.M. president and become chief executive of Cruise, the division working on autonomous vehicles, the company said Thursday.
The move gives Cruise increased management heft as it prepares to start a driverless-ride service by the end of 2019. G.M. expects the service and other related businesses to expand rapidly, and Mr. Ammann said it could involve “trillions” of self-driving cars in the future.
“This is technology that we wanted to develop and deploy in massive scale, measured ultimately in units of trillions,” Mr. Ammann said in an interview. “To go from where we are to achieve that objective requires a major commitment of time and resources, and so I’m going all in.”
The unit was formed when Mr. Ammann spearheaded G.M.’s acquisition of Cruise Automation, a San Francisco start-up, for more than $1 billion in 2016. A New Zealander who worked in investment banking before joining G.M. in 2010, Mr. Ammann will become the head of Cruise on Jan. 1.
Kyle Vogt, a co-founder of Cruise and its current chief executive, will become president and chief technology officer.
Other automakers and technology companies — including Ford Motor and Waymo, the self-driving company that is owned by Google’s parent, Alphabet — are working on similar efforts in the expectation that such driverless services will become a large and lucrative business. Few have suggested that these new businesses could become as vast as Mr. Ammann’s vision of trillions of vehicles, however.
Mike Ramsey, a Gartner analyst, said G.M. appeared to be “in the top tier” of companies striving to grab the lead in driverless-ride services. But G.M. has revealed few details about Cruise’s technology, he added, so it is hard to judge how advanced it is.
Ford, which is testing autonomous delivery cars in Miami, plans to have a driverless car in mass production by the end of 2020. Waymo has been working on its technology for nearly a decade and has racked up tens of millions of miles of on-road testing.
Waymo has a test fleet of self-driving cars in Scottsdale, Ariz., providing rides to a limited number of residents. It plans to buy up to 62,000 Chrysler minivans and 20,000 Jaguar electric cars next year to deploy in a commercial ride service.
Analysts also said Mr. Ammann’s arrival at Cruise could signal preparations for an initial public offering of the unit, which could bring billions of dollars in proceeds.
Mr. Ammann “has the Wall Street background to do that,” Mr. Ramsey said.
Cruise is already seen as having a potentially significant market value. G.M. brought in SoftBank, the Japanese technology giant, and Honda Motor this year as partners in the operation. SoftBank agreed in May to invest $2.25 billion. Last month, Honda purchased a 5.7 percent stake for $750 million, which values the unit at about $13 billion. Honda also agreed to put in an additional $2 billion over 12 years.