The top executive at Cruise, General Motors’ self-driving subsidiary, said Monday the company is preparing to launch operations in Phoenix, Arizona and Austin, Texas as it moves ahead with the commercialization of automated vehicle technology.
Kyle Vogt, Cruise CEO, said the success of its self-driving initiative in San Francisco, has given Cruise confidence it can scale up operations, including a delivery service with Walmart that will use autonomous vehicles, or Avs, in parts of Phoenix within the next 90 days.
SF initiative set stage for growth
Cruise now operates a fleet of 70 robo-taxis in San Francisco, which has accumulated more 300,000 miles of “high value” urban miles. Those trips forced the vehicles to deal with all kinds of difficult driving situations ranging from a mattress left in the road — the Cruise taxi simply went around — to the sudden appearance of emergency and police vehicles, Vogt noted.
It will quickly bring the service to other markets, including those requiring freeway driving and dealing with inclement weather, which are challenges for AVs, he said, adding, and Cruise’s annual revenues could reach $1 billion in 2025.
“It’s being used all the time,” he said. “We have some customers who belong to the 100-mile club,” he added, which means they’ve ridden at least 100 miles in a Cruise robo-taxi. “That’s hard to do because San Francisco is only 7 miles wide,” he noted.
Customer feedback from the Cruise service in San Francisco has been overwhelmingly positive, he added during a presentation at the Goldman Sachs Communicopia + Technology Conference. “It’s only a few months old and people love it,” Vogt said. “It’s really compelling and it’s really resonating.”
It brings a future with driverless motoring much closer, he added.
Foundation for expansion in place
Vogt also said Cruise has been laying the foundation for its growth for years, adding the technology is only going to get better. In addition, customers, particularly women, do not have to worry about getting into a vehicle with a stranger and there are not any worries about whether the driver is paying attention to the road rather than their phone.
While it took 33 months to launch the robo-taxi operation in San Francisco, Cruise is confident it can get set up Phoenix and Austin by the end of the year because much of the work in organizing the business has already been done. In addition, Cruise has developed a low cost-system for mapping that it plans to use in both cities.
Looking to the future
The Cruise Origin General Motors is preparing to build for Cruise will be capable of traveling 1 million miles during its lifetime, which will reduce operating costs. Cruise also has developed its chip set to use in the Origin to reduce costs even further.
Vogt added the perception of and discussion surrounding the AV business seems to swing between great optimism and great pessimism. Although there is still a high level of skepticism about AVs, the tests in San Francisco make many very optimistic about the future of Cruise, which has grown from 40 employees to more than 3,000 — during a time it can be difficult to attract talent.
“We operate on a high level of trust,” he said. “We let our people work from anywhere.”
Mary Barra, GM chair and CEO, who also spoke at the conference, said the pessimism about Cruise also applies to GM. GM, however, will be able to produce the Origin AV required by Cruise it its factory using the same Ultium platform that will serve as the basis for new products such as the Chevrolet Silverado EV, Blazer EV and Equinox EV, which begin arriving early next year.
In addition, GM also plans to produce 30,000 delivery vehicles next year based on the Ultium platform for BrightDrop, its new freight service based in Palo Alto, California in Silicon Valley.
By 2025, GM will be able to build 1 million EVs in North America and will utilize a supply chain for batteries centered in North America. “We’re well positioned,” she said.