GM president leaves automaker to lead its Cruise unit

General Motors President Dan Ammann led the acquisition of Cruise in 2016

General Motors Co President Dan Ammann will take over as chief executive of the automaker's majority-owned Cruiseself-driving auto subsidiary, trading in the No. 2 job at one of the world's largest automakers for a front-row position in the race to render traditional cars obsolete.

Ammann's move, announced by GM and Cruise on Thursday and effective January 1, underscores the challenges for legacy automakers as they compete for capital and talent with transport companies born from the digital technology and artificial intelligence industries, such as rival Waymo, the self-driving vehicle unit of Alphabet Inc, or Tesla Inc.

Cruise's current CEO, Kyle Vogt, will become president and CTO.

GM is betting it can dedicate more resources to developing self-driving cars and transportation services in a quest for future profits while cutting back in the rest of the company.

But the change in command could pose cultural challenges if Ammann's arrival as CEO signals that GM — a 110-year-old company with $146 billion in annual revenue — will be exerting more control over Cruise, whose engineers have enjoyed relatively free rein so far.

Ammann said he is "thrilled" to be dedicating 100 percent of his time and energy to Cruise, which is now valued at $14.6 billion following recent investments. He has had great interest in GM's development of autonomous vehicles and technology and has spent much time in San Francisco with the Cruise team.

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GM Chief Executive Mary Barra, in a statement, described Ammann's move as the "next step towards commercial deployment".

Since GM's acquisition, San Francisco-based Cruise has grown to 1,000 employees from 40, and recently announced plans to expand operations to Seattle. Beyond testing in the Bay Area, Cruise has also been prototyping its systems in Arizona and MI. The vehicles utilized by the program are primarily Chevy Bolts, the automaker's latest EV.

GM has said Cruise will commercially deploy in 2019 in a ridesharing venture in a discrete geographic area.

"These appointments further demonstrate our commitment to transforming mobility through the safe deployment of self-driving technology", said Barra. His resume includes a stint as an investment banker at Morgan Stanley and as GM's former chief financial officer before being promoted to president in 2014. "We've gotten to see how he thinks and his approach to business".

Ammann relinquished other roles as president, including leading Cadillac and global portfolio planning, to GM product chief Mark Reuss in June.

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