Commercial Awareness

Cruise RoboTaxis, taxis of the past?

Commercial Awareness Analyst, Parleen, takes a look into the future of RoboTaxi's.

General Motors (GM)’s driverless vehicle subsidiary, Cruise, has gone through some serious turmoil over the last few months, recalling its fleet of taxis in the US, undergoing safety review, and then followed by the resignation of its CEO and co-founder, Kyle Vogt. The unravelling of a crash involving a Cruise vehicle means that the company is off-track from it’s futuristic robotaxi vision, having stated, “zero crashes, zero traffic, and zero emissions” in 2021.

 In October of this year, a Cruise robotaxi dragged a pedestrian across the road after she was hit by a human driver first. This event may result in a loss of trust from the public in evolving technology such as self-driving vehicles, due to the safety risks. Although the pedestrian was first hit by a driver of another vehicle, the unpredictability of humans, whether they are pedestrians or drivers, seems to potentially throw off driverless vehicles, suggesting that they are not advanced enough to overcome human error yet. Despite the machine-learning models, systems and data that the driverless vehicles use to process information, as well as the smart technologies in the cars (e.g. cameras and sensors), this incident demonstrates that there is still some way to go before robotaxis could be considered safe enough to independently and faultlessly make decisions. Therefore, the following suspension of the vehicles is most appropriate, as Cruise continues to test the vehicle in closed environments.

 Following the crash, we have seen a reshuffle in Cruise’s leadership after CEO and co-founder, KyleVogt’s resigned, followed by co-founder Dan Kan a day later. Although Vogt posted, “Cruise is still just getting started, and I believe it has a great future ahead.", on social media platform X, the regulatory hurdles that the company must overcome following a safety review, an evaluation of the software in conjunction with the crash by consultancy firm Exponent, and an investigation of Cruise’s response following the crash by law firm Quinn Emmanuel, hired by the board, suggests that there is a long way to go.

Cruise’s robotaxi’s were first made available to the public in California in February 2022, then seeing to an expansion to other US states including Phoenix; Arizona; Austin, and Texas over the past months. However, the pause in the commercialisation of their vehicles gives way to existing companies such as Waymo (owned by Alphabet), to continue doing what they are good at whilst ‘competition’ takes a break. Comparing Cruise to Waymo, the former is a much smaller division of a larger company. On the other hand, Alphabet’s investment and expertise in the Waymo robotaxis, launching much earlier in 2017, is arguably leading in this space.

Combining Cruise’s newness and instability, with the current state of the company’s employee share programme, where employees were initially forbidden from trading their shares after the incident - suggesting a pending revaluation of Cruise, but then met with a new statement, that new arrangements will be made for concerned employees, allowing them to sell shares to mitigate tax obligations, emphasises that Cruise is ENGULFED in unclarity right now!

What comes next forCruise is not clear yet, whether they will sell the subsidiary as it is a smaller part of GM, or whether GM will continue to invest and dedicate to overcoming technological hurdles so that Cruise can become widely adopted. Either way, we will be anticipating change for Cruise and even stricter regulations and testing for automated vehicles to gain public trust back.