Bruised Cruise shifts gears with a scaled-down plan to return to the robotaxi

Cruise executives are taking a measured approach to business that preserves money and improves a safety culture in an attempt to put GM’s troubled autonomous car subsidiary on the right track.

The first steps in this rebuilding plan, which includes stopping production of its Origin robotaxi, were laid out in an internal email sent to employees by Mo Elshenawy, who is Cruise’s executive vice president of engineering. and rose to the role of president after co-founder. and CEO Kyle Vogt resigned.

Currently, this strategy includes more “realistic” plans, according to Elshenawy. That means focusing on its existing robotaxi platform, the Chevy Bolt AV, instead of the custom-built Origin shuttle that GM began developing earlier this year. GM recently temporarily halted production of the Origin. This latest email says that while the development of the Origin program will continue, the car will not be produced until 2024. The company is also reviewing its exit plans and will provide an update in several weeks.

While Elshenawy did not provide a timeline for when Cruise operations will resume, he said the company will relaunch in just one city at first. That’s a departure from the aggressive multi-city launch strategy Cruise and GM have targeted for 2023.

“As we work to rebuild trust with regulators and communities, we have made the decision to focus on Bolt-based Cruise AVs in the near term with a longer term strategy around Origin,” company letter in an email statement in response to an internal email. “Once we’ve taken steps to improve our safety culture and rebuild trust, our strategy is to relaunch in one city and prove what we’ve done there, before expanding.”

The internal email also provided some clarification surrounding the employee share sales program, which was recently suspended for the fourth quarter. Vogt reversed this unpopular decision over the weekend, but employees are still waiting for more information. The email sent on Wednesday said that employees who own restricted stock units settled from the beginning of the year through October will be eligible for a new tender offer to help those tax qualification.

The internal email comes three days after Vogt abruptly resigned and about a month after the California Department of Motor Vehicles suspended Cruise’s permits to operate self-driving cars on public roads after in the Oct. 2 incident that saw a pedestrian — who was hit head-first by a human-driven car and landed in the path of a Cruise robotaxi — run over and dragged 20 feet by the AV. A video, viewed by TechCrunch a day after the incident, shows the robotaxi braking aggressively and stopping the woman. The DMV’s suspension order said Cruise withheld about seven seconds of video footage, which showed the robotaxi attempting to pull over and then dragging the woman 20 feet.

Cruise, already facing increasing opposition from San Francisco city officials, soon found himself hampered by investigations and pressure to halt operations. Without commercial permits to operate in San Francisco and an internal decision to discontinue its driverless fleet in other states, the company has laid off contract workers, further deepening the difficulty.

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