Cruise aims to quickly expand to other cities, CEO says

Jessica Thompson

Just weeks after starting to offer self-driving vehicle rides to the public in San Francisco, Cruise is preparing to quickly expand to other cities and other types of vehicles.

“We get our early users to love the product and come back again and again,” Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt said Thursday at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference. “And then once they love it, the tech barriers to going from one city to three cities to 10 cities are very, very small in proportion to the amount of work it took to get city No. 1.”

Cruise, the self-driving vehicle company majority-owned by General Motors, began offering free driverless rides in San Francisco on Feb. 1.

By 2030, Cruise is targeting a fleet of at least 1 million self-driving vehicles. The company has received five of the six permits it needs to charge customers for driverless rides in California.

The learning curve between the initial cities that follow San Francisco could be steep, said Vogt, but after Cruise launches robotaxi services in three to five cities, “the incremental differences … will get smaller and smaller.”

Cruise also is evolving its technology for different types of vehicles. Today, Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicles make up the Cruise fleet. Cruise plans to launch the Origin, an electric autonomous shuttle, next year. Given the Origin’s larger body style, Cruise has been working to validate its core technology with different sensor placement, Vogt said.

“That same approach that we’ve developed to adapt from the Bolt to the Origin is the same approach we’re using to adapt from San Francisco to other cities,” he said.

Vogt, who co-founded Cruise in 2013, was named CEO of the company last month after Dan Ammann left in December. Vogt also is president and chief technical officer.

Cruise’s goals haven’t changed, despite the new management structure, Vogt said.

Short term, the company aims to deploy driverless vehicles at scale in urban areas. Longer term, Cruise plans to expand beyond urban areas and partner with GM on personal autonomous vehicles, “which we think will really explode the number of vehicles out there and size of the market and the revenue we can generate,” Vogt said.

GM CEO Mary Barra said in January that the automaker plans to launch its first personal autonomous vehicle by mid-decade.

GM owns 60 percent of Cruise, and alignment between Cruise and GM has been crucial, Vogt said. Teams from both operations work together to build AV technology and integrate it into production vehicles, he said.

“What’s really important to me is that Mary Barra and the GM leadership team and the GM board see our future the same way we do. And that’s what we’ve achieved,” Vogt said. “Right now, to keep us on this trajectory of getting to a million vehicles by 2030, [a close relationship with GM] is the right move for us today.”

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