Cruise, the San Francisco-based robotaxi company backed by General Motors, plans to expand its operations to Dubai and will set up its first overseas unit in the Middle Eastern city by 2023 and have thousands of its electric autonomous vans operating there by the end of the decade. 

Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority and Cruise signed an agreement for the U.S. company to operate on-demand autonomous taxis in the high-tech city, with a target of having as many as 4,000 Cruise Origin vehicles on the road by 2030, Dubai and Cruise said in a statement. It’s the first commercial project for Cruise outside the U.S. Cruise said Dubai is not investing in it as part of the project. 

The agreement is “the first of its kind worldwide between a government entity and a leading developer of autonomous vehicles,” said Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the city’s crown prince. Deployment of Cruise’s technology aligns with Dubai’s plans to convert a quarter of vehicle trips to self-driving by 2030. The city is hoping deployment of electric autonomous vehicles will cut both transportation costs and road accidents. 

Cruise has raised more than $10 billion from backers including Microsoft, Honda and Softbank in addition to General Motors and is among the leading developers of autonomous ride services,vying with Alphabet’s Waymo and Amazon’s Zoox in the robotaxi space. The Origin, unveiled in January 2020 before the Covid-19 pandemic, has no steering wheel, pedals, windshield wipers or other conventional vehicle features to create a roomy cabin with two sets of inward-facing seats for passengers. It was jointly developed with engineers from GM, Cruise and partner Honda.

A small number of Origins are to begin operating in Dubai in 2023, though it’s not clear when they’ll begin picking up passengers. 

Cruise tests almost exclusively in San Francisco and began operating vehicles there without a safety driver behind the wheel for the first time in December. Cofounded by CTO Kyle Vogt, the company had hoped to start operating commercial robotaxis, at least on a limited basis, by 2019, before conceding the technology wasn’t ready to do so. It hasn’t said when that service will begin.

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Trying to make sense of technology-driven changes reshaping how we get around from Los Angeles, America’s sunny capital of congestion.