GM’s Cruise Dismisses Nine Executives, Faces Fine

The bad news keeps coming for General Motors’ Cruise self-driving division, as it seeks to deal with the fallout of an accident in October.

Reuters, citing an internal memo it has seen, reported that GM’s robotaxi unit has dismissed nine key people amid an ongoing safety investigation.

Cruise then reportedly confirmed that among the dismissed executives is Chief Operating Officer Gil West. It comes after Cruise also reportedly compelled its former CEO Kyle Vogt and chief product officer and co-founder Daniel Kan to step down.

Image credit: Cruise

San Fran accident

The events at Cruise can be traced back to August, when the California state regulator – the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) – had approved an expansion that authorised around-the-clock rides (from both Cruise and Waymo) throughout San Francisco – the second most dense city in America.

However that move had been strongly opposed by transportation and safety agencies, such as the police and fire departments, as well as many residents, because of concerns about robotaxi’s erratic driving and interference with their operations.

The PUC approval had allowed both Cruise and Waymo to charge fares for rides at any time of day, and had further cemented San Francisco’s position as the home city for self-driving car services.

But on 2 October matters took a turn for the worse for Cruise, when a pedestrian was struck by vehicle driven by a hit-and-run driver, who fled the scene.

The pedestrian was unfortunately flung into the path of the Cruise robotaxi, and the person was then dragged beneath the robotaxi for 20 feet (6 metres) as it pulled over to the side of the road.

The critically injured female pedestrian was pinned beneath its rear wheels and had to be extracted from under the robotaxi with the help of the “jaws of life” by the Fire Department, before being taken to San Francisco General Hospital with “multiple traumatic injuries.”

After California pulled its licence, Cruise implemented a number of changes, including a recall (i.e. an over-the-air software update) of 950 driverless cars from the roads.

Cruise then confirmed that it was withdrawing all its vehicles from testing on public roads in the United States, to conduct a safety review after the accident. It hired an outside law firm to scrutinise its response to the 2 October accident.

Cruise also warned staff of layoffs (slated for December) and revealed it was planning to re-launch in one unspecified city before expanding to others.

Meanwhile, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in October had also opened an investigation into pedestrian risks at Cruise.

Executives dismissed

Now Reuters has reported that nine executives have been handed their marching orders at Cruise.

“Following an initial analysis of the 2 October incident and Cruise’s response to it, nine individuals departed Cruise,” Reuters quoted the memo as stating.

“We are committed to full transparency and are focused on rebuilding trust and operating with the highest standards when it comes to safety, integrity, and accountability,” the memo reportedly said. “As a result, we believe that new leadership is necessary to achieve these goals.”

A Cruise spokesperson then confirmed to Reuters that among those dismissed was Chief Operating Officer Gil West, as well as Chief Legal and Policy Officer Jeff Bleich, and Senior VP of Government Affairs David Estrada.

“The personnel decisions made today are a necessary step for Cruise to move forward as it focuses on accountability, trust and transparency,” GM was quoted as saying in a statement.

Delayed disclosure?

It has also been reported that Cruise could face $1.5 million in fines and additional sanctions over its failure to disclose details surrounding the accident.

The Associated Press reported that Cruise faces the fine, after the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) alleged the firm had covered-up the San Francisco accident’s severity.

A notice orders Cruise to appear at a 6 February evidentiary hearing to determine whether the robotaxi service misled regulators about what happened after one of its driverless cars ran into the pedestrian on the evening of 2 October in San Francisco.

The Origin self-driving shuttle designed by GM’s Cruise. Image credit: Cruise

In a 1 December filing recounting how Cruise handled disclosures about the accident, the commission alleged Cruise tried to conceal how its robotaxi reacted to the accident for more than two weeks.

The documents allege Cruise’s concealment started with a 3 October phone call to a regulatory analyst who was told the robotaxi had come to an immediate stop upon impact with the pedestrian without mentioning the vehicle actually drove another 20ft with the injured person still pinned down.

Cruise did not provide the video footage until 19 October, according to the regulatory filing.

The cover-up spanned 15 days, alleges the PUC, exposing Cruise and GM to potential fines of $100,000 per day, or $1.5m.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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