Nov 22, 2023 - Business

Scoop: GM's Cruise plans careful re-launch for driverless robotaxis

A Cruise robotaxi in San Francisco. Photo courtesy of Cruise

Robotaxi operator Cruise is plotting a slow return to service, starting in one city — potentially in Texas or Arizona — as it works to overcome safety concerns and a lack of public trust.

  • It's also narrowing its engineering focus to its existing robotaxi, and will lay off an unspecified number of non-engineers in multiple cities.

Why it matters: The General Motors-owned autonomous vehicle developer needs to take baby steps to regain credibility after a string of incidents, including a horrific pedestrian accident in San Francisco last month.

Driving the news: Newly appointed President and Chief Technology Officer Mo Elshenawy outlined the company's next steps in an email to Cruise employees Wednesday.

  • The company, which is awaiting the results of two independent investigations, will focus on "realistic" plans that "our teams can deliver," Elshenawy told employees.
  • "Once we have taken steps to improve our safety culture and rebuild trust, our strategy is to re-launch in one city and prove our performance there, before expanding," a Cruise spokesman told Axios, confirming the contents of the staff email.
  • Cruise will focus only on its electric Bolt robotaxis, which means tabling plans to develop and deploy a second robotaxi: GM's purpose-built Origin van.

Of note: GM already said it will pause Origin production in the coming weeks.

  • A GM spokesman tells Axios that the automaker doesn't expect to produce more Origins in 2024.

What to watch: The changes mean Cruise will be laying off an unspecified number of its 3,800 employees, Elshenawy told the staff.

  • The layoffs will mostly affect non-engineering workers, including those working on Cruise's commercial rollout in San Francisco and other markets, a Cruise spokesman said.

💬 My thought bubble: Cruise won't relaunch in San Francisco because California has yanked its license to operate there.

  • The most likely bet is a city in Texas — Austin, Dallas or Houston — where Cruise already had some operations and was gearing up for expansion.
  • Texas' regulatory environment is far friendlier toward autonomous vehicles than California's.
  • Another possibility is Phoenix, where Cruise was doing driverless deliveries until its recent suspension. (Cruise's chief rival, Waymo, is already well-established in metro Phoenix.)
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