Many of Ford's Smart Mobility projects involve smartphone connectivity (Photo: Ford)

General Motors is investing in an autonomous-driving specialist, while Ford Motor announced it has established a subsdiary to “build, grow and invest in new mobility services.”

The moves show that North America’s two biggest automakers are accelerating their push into new products and areas that are set to transform their business.

GM is acquiring Cruise Automation, a software company specializing in automated driving. The move come shoftly after it announced early in the year that it was taking a 500 million-dlr stake in ride-sharing company Lyft.

The carmaker didn’t disclose terms of the Cruise Automation acquisition, but press reports speculate that it paid around 1 billion dlrs for the company.

GM, Ford and other carmakers are investing heavily in what they believe will be the mainstays of tomorrow’s personal mobility. Key trends they foresee are electric vehicles, connected cars, car-sharing, a better integrated mobility infrastructure and autonomous driving.

In all of these, digital technologies will play a crucial role and automakers are growing increasingly worried that they will become too dependent on IT companies providing the core of tomorrow’s car business.

Egil Juliussen, an analyst at market researchers IHS Automotive, said GM’s acquisition is a clear indication that the carmaker wants to own what it considers a key technology. “This acquisition announcement clearly shows that GM is serious about developing the technology and controlling its own path to self-driving and driverless vehicles,” he said in a research note.

Ford was an early adopter of a strategy aimed at making it both a builder of cars and a mobility company. It announced last year that it was launching 30-or-so smart mobility projects. The creation of the new subsidiary ”“ Ford Smart Mobility LLC ”“ marks the next step in this strategy.

Former Steelcase CEO Jim Hackett will head the unit. He will report directly to Ford CEO Mark Fields, who said one of Hackett’s main tasks is to take the carmaker into the mobility services business.

-By Arjen Bongard