GM’s Robotaxi Service Launch Pushed Past End Of Year

  • Nick Jaynes has worked for more than a decade in automotive media industry. In that time, he's done it all—from public relations for Chevrolet to new-car reviews for Mashable. Nick now lives in Portland, Oregon and spends his weekends traversing off-road trails in his 100 Series Toyota Land Cruiser.

can be reached at nickjaynes@gmail.com
  • Nick Jaynes has worked for more than a decade in automotive media industry. In that time, he's done it all—from public relations for Chevrolet to new-car reviews for Mashable. Nick now lives in Portland, Oregon and spends his weekends traversing off-road trails in his 100 Series Toyota Land Cruiser.

can be reached at nickjaynes@gmail.com
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General Motors’ self-driving tech arm, Cruise Automation, had long been aiming for a wide scale deployment of a commercial robotaxi ride-hailing service in 2019. Now, however, Cruise is pushing back that timeline beyond the end of 2019 in order to rack up more test miles around San Francisco.

  • Cruise CEO Dan Ammann wrote in a Medium blog post that the company is pushing back its robotaxi ride-hailing service launch beyond the end of this year.
  • Previously, the firm had planned to deploy 2,500 self-driving Chevrolet Bolt EVs in San Francisco sometime in 2019.
  • Although Cruise is one of the best-funded auto/tech hybrid firms, it can’t delay the launch forever — its competitors are already moving forward with their own services.

This week, Cruise CEO Dan Ammann took to Medium to lay out Cruise’s future vision: Specifically, the company won’t be launching a commercial robotaxi ride-hailing service this year. The company leaders have decided the firm needs more time and more miles driven before it can safely launch.

“When you’re working on the large scale deployment of mission critical safety systems, the mindset of ‘move fast and break things’ certainly doesn’t cut it,” Ammann wrote, referring Facebook’s former motto. “With such high stakes, our first deployment needs to be done right and we will only deploy when we can demonstrate that we will have a net positive impact on safety on our roads.”

Ammann argues that navigating San Francisco is “more than 40 times more challenging than a simple suburban setting.” However, once Cruise can safely master San Francisco streets, a widespread rollout could quickly be accomplished.

In short, Cruise and its employees, which number more than 1,500, have discovered that safely and reliably operating robotaxis is more complex than they previously imagined — especially in San Francisco.

Cruise Automation Bolt EV. | Photo: Cruise

Right now, Cruise is operating a fleet of General Motors’ Michigan-build Bolt EVs that have been modified with Cruise’s self-driving tech. With the extra time its giving itself before the public ride-hailing service launch, Cruise intends to build the largest EV fast-charging station in the city to support those electric robotaxis. What’s more, Ammann claims Cruise already owns nearly 40% of all EV fast chargers in San Francisco.

Also under way, while Cruise cars rack up more miles, is the shared next-generation platform being co-developed by Honda and General Motors, which will underpin future Cruise robotaxis. Presumably, those cars will launch at least after the initial San Francisco rollout.

Earlier this year, GM requested exemption to certain vehicle safety components, including mirrors, turn signals, and dashboard warning lights, etc., for its robotaxi service rollout. Since many safety advocate groups publicly balked at this request, it’s not likely it will be approved. Therefore, Cruise’s plans have presumably been delayed a bit.

Cruise was purchased by GM in 2016 for $1 billion. Since then, it’s been spun off into its own entity, receiving further investment from GM, Softbank, and Honda to the tune of $7.8 billion. And GM continues to pump $1 billion per year into Cruise’s coffers. So, it has time to take it slow and do things right. The last thing any one of those firms is a failed launch.

It can’t rest on its laurels forever, though. Google’s self-driving division, Waymo, launched its publicly accessible robotaxi ride-hailing service, called Waymo One, in Phoenix, AZ last December. And although Cruise is one of the most well heeled tech/automotive hybrid firms, it can’t wait forever.


About the Author

  • Nick Jaynes has worked for more than a decade in automotive media industry. In that time, he's done it all—from public relations for Chevrolet to new-car reviews for Mashable. Nick now lives in Portland, Oregon and spends his weekends traversing off-road trails in his 100 Series Toyota Land Cruiser.

can be reached at nickjaynes@gmail.com
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