GM daughter Cruise, a robotaxi company, is said to have fired one out of four employees. That’s approximately 900 people and 24% of all full-time equivalents (FTE).
Most of these employees work in the non-technical part of the company. Last Thursday, an email explaining the decision was sent to all personnel members.
The decision came after Cruise had been forbidden to offer unmanned taxi services in California after a strange accident in the streets of San Francisco.
In early October, a pedestrian was hit in San Francisco by a car with a human driver, which fled the scene but pushed the victim into the pathway of an upcoming Cruise taxi. The unmanned vehicle braked but couldn’t avoid hitting the pedestrian, which got severely injured.
Based on video footage, an investigation from the California Department of Motor Vehicles (CDMV) concluded that the Cruise car didn’t stop entirely after hitting the pedestrian but tried to pull over, awaiting emergency vehicles, dragging the person stuck underneath several meters further down the road at a little more than 10 kph. The pedestrian survived, but the first aid rescuing crew experienced difficulties freeing the stuck person.
Too dangerous for traffic
The CDMV deemed the deployment of Cruise vehicles too dangerous for traffic and, therefore, withdrew the company’s San Francisco permit at the end of October, affecting 400 Cruise cars, the majority of its fleet.
The safety body says the car can’t make qualified emergency decisions. It also accuses Cruise of withholding crucial information about the accident after the company held back on the video footage.
Cruise has consequently halted its self-driving operations almost completely. In Phoenix, Houston, and Austin, some cars remain in traffic but with a human safety driver on board, who can intervene in an emergency.
On the back burner
As a consequence, Cruise has put its activities on the back burner. It planned to introduce the first units of its ‘Origin’ Robotaxi (without a steering wheel or pedals) next year but will now focus on the converted Chevy Bolt cars it used.
Cruise hopes to be admitted to continue its self-driving activities soon, but only in one city, to begin with. Before the incident, Cruise offered self-driving rides in five other cities than San Francisco and hoped to expand this to twelve other cities next year.
San Francisco is one of the cities where robotaxi companies were busy being deployed. The ban is a blow for Level 4 robotaxi operations, which was only recently approved for expanded commercial use in San Francisco, meaning robotaxis could also operate during the daytime. However, as the decision affects Cruise only, competitor Waymo, a subsidiary of Google, is allowed to proceed.
In San Francisco, Cruise came in first at offering paid driverless taxi rides but was featured more often in the news with several mishaps, from cars driving into wet concrete at road construction works, blocking crossings, and freezing in traffic situations, which were complex to address for the vehicle. As for accidents with pedestrians, two cases were reported.
Many city instances and Frisco inhabitants are not so keen on driverless cars. They also point out that robotaxis often block traffic at intersections and react strangely in some complex traffic conditions.