Another look at Cruise

While we wait to see what happens.

A driverless Cruise car sits in traffic on Austin Street in downtown Houston on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023. Photo: Jay R. Jordan/Axios

Cruise employees worry that there is no easy way to fix the company’s problems, said five former and current employees and business partners, while its rivals fear Cruise’s issues could lead to tougher driverless car rules for all of them.

Company insiders are putting the blame for what went wrong on a tech industry culture — led by [38-year-old CEO Kyle] Mr. Vogt — that put a priority on the speed of the program over safety. In the competition between Cruise and its top driverless car rival, Waymo, Mr. Vogt wanted to dominate in the same way Uber dominated its smaller ride-hailing competitor, Lyft.

“Kyle is a guy who is willing to take risks, and he is willing to move quickly. He is very Silicon Valley,” said Matthew Wansley, a professor at the Cardozo School of Law in New York who specializes in emerging automotive technologies. “That both explains the success of Cruise and its mistakes.”

When Mr. Vogt spoke to the company about its suspended operations on Monday, he said that he did not know when they could start again and that layoffs could be coming, according to two employees who attended the companywide meeting.

He acknowledged that Cruise had lost the public’s trust, the employees said, and outlined a plan to win it back by being more transparent and putting more emphasis on safety. He named Louise Zhang, vice president of safety, as the company’s interim chief safety officer and said she would report directly to him.

“Trust is one of those things that takes a long time to build and just seconds to lose,” Mr. Vogt said, according to attendees. “We need to get to the bottom of this and start rebuilding that trust.”


Mr. Vogt began working on self-driving cars as a teenager. When he was 13, he programmed a Power Wheels ride-on toy car to follow the yellow line in a parking lot. He later participated in a government-sponsored self-driving car competition while studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In 2013, he started Cruise Automation. The company retrofitted conventional cars with sensors and computers to operate autonomously on highways. He sold the business three years later to G.M. for $1 billion.

After the deal closed, Dan Ammann, G.M.’s president, took over as Cruise’s chief executive, and Mr. Vogt became its president and chief technology officer.

As president, Mr. Vogt built out Cruise’s engineering team while the company expanded to about 2,000 employees from 40, former employees said. He championed bringing cars to as many markets as fast as possible, believing that the speedier the company moved, the more lives it would save, former employees said.

In 2021, Mr. Vogt took over as chief executive. Mary T. Barra, G.M.’s chief executive, began including Mr. Vogt on earnings calls and presentations, where he hyped the self-driving market and predicted that Cruise would have one million cars by 2030.

See here for the previous entry. We still don’t have a clear timeframe for when Cruise might un-suspend its operations, not that they ought to be in any rush. Indeed, it seems to me that rushing has been their main issue all along, given that the likes of Waymo was not as out there as they were. And I for one am just fine with the idea of a heavier hand by regulators. I do think autonomous vehicles have the potential to be a big upgrade on safety, given how capricious human drivers can be. But that doesn’t mean they’re ready for that now, and that doesn’t mean we should be conducting public beta tests when we’re not sure they’re sufficiently close to being ready. If the Cruise experience sets everything back a year or two, I don’t consider that to be a bad outcome.

CNBC has a bit more:

But the [Cruise launch in San Francisco] has been plagued by problems. The cars have driven into firefighting scenes, caused construction delays, impeded ambulances and even meandered into active crime scenes.

“There have been 75 plus incidents,” said San Francisco fire chief Jeanine Nicholson. “It’s like playing Russian roulette. It’s impacting public safety and that’s what we need to fix.”

San Francisco city attorney David Chiu said, “there are still some glitches that need to be worked out.”

“And this is with only a few hundred vehicles,” Chiu said. “The idea that thousands of vehicles could be hitting our streets in short order is what gives us concern.”


Before Cruise’s permit was revoked, CNBC’s Deirdre Bosa took a ride in one of its autonomous vehicles. She also gave Waymo a try and offers a comparison of the two very different rides. She sat down with Kyle Vogt, CEO of Cruise, who was optimistic the company could get past these recent hurdles.

“It will be very commonplace for people who are in major cities to get around town in a robotaxi over the next few years” Vogt said.

That’s 75 incidents since August, which sure seems like a lot. The aforementioned interview can be seen here if you’re interested.

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