GM’s Cruise division, which focuses on autonomous vehicles, has been having a tough time lately. After a series of accidents, California’s regulators snagged the company’s license to operate robotaxis without test drivers. Then, the company’s brass decided it was best to go ahead and halt all robotaxi operations while the company’s executives get the issues sorted out. So, there are a bunch of very sad little robotaxis with cute names like Poppy, Taco, Spin, and Butterfly are all sitting alone in a garage or parking lot somewhere.
But, there could be some good news for the little Bolt EV-based robotaxis. Plans to replace them with newer Ultium-based transportation boxes are on hold. An audio transcript from an all-hands meeting that Forbes got ahold of explained the situation. CEO Kyle Vogt told staff that “because a lot of this is in flux, we did make the decision with GM to pause production of the Origin.”
This doesn’t, however, mean that the Origin is dead. Far from it, actually. The company has already been producing early versions of the vehicle for testing by the Cruise division, with hundreds already built. Vogt told Cruise employees that the vehicles are enough for Cruise to do the needed early testing and work with, and the company does intend to proceed with at least some of their activities with the Origin. Later, once everything is worked out, the company plans to resume production of Origins and put them into service.
“During this pause we’re going to use our time wisely,” Vogt said in the transcript Forbes obtained after indicating that he was already in touch with regulators and industry. “And so if we want to rebuild trust with these groups, we have got to make sure that we are having those discussions and they hear things from us first and not from the press.”
Probably the most damaging incident was a recent accident in which a woman in San Francisco was struck by a human-driven vehicle and thrown in front of a Cruise robotaxi named “Panini.” The driver who initially struck the pedestrian fled the scene, leaving Cruise basically holding the bag. The vehicle detected a collision and stopped, but initiated a safety maneuver meant to move the vehicle safely to the side of the road, but unwittingly drug the victim of the crash along for about 20 feet.
Cruise says that the vehicle performed as required by law, and reacted to the pedestrian in its path in less than half a second (a reaction time the company says is far less than human reaction time). The company also said that the vehicle would have avoided the pedestrian entirely if the pedestrian had initially walked in front of it.
But, despite these assertions, the optics of a woman being drug by a robotaxi are obviously awful. The company now has the difficult task of proving to the public that vehicles like Panini are safe, and won’t mercilessly kill pedestrians in unusual circumstances beyond the vehicle’s control. If Cruise can do this and satisfy regulators (who may have acted after public outcry), the company could get back on track. But, this isn’t going to be easy.
Featured image provided by GM.
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