In 2023, the future is palpable with AI’s surge, Apple’s Vision Pro headset, and Vegas’s LED Sphere. Yet, not all futuristic promises materialize, especially in the realm of driverless cars, a vision executives, potentially Elon Musk, have long promised. Cruise, General Motors’ subsidiary, introduced its Origin pod in 2020, anticipating production this year. However, a series of setbacks, particularly with self-driving Chevy Bolt EV prototypes, has not only halted Origin production but has also significantly setback Cruise’s overall operations.
Initiating a fleet of autonomous Chevy Bolts in 2021 across multiple cities, Cruise faced safety concerns highlighted by high-profile crashes, including a disturbing incident in San Francisco on October 2. Following this collision, where a pedestrian was struck by a Cruise vehicle after being hit by a human-driven car, the California Department of Motor Vehicles accused Cruise executives of misreporting. Consequently, California officials indefinitely suspended Cruise’s self-driving permits on October 24, prompting a pause in operations and the recent resignations of CEO Kyle Vogt and COO Daniel Kan.
A letter to employees, as reported by Automotive News, discloses Cruise’s revised plans. Originally targeting expansion to 13 cities, Cruise now plans to recommence driverless taxi services in just one city post-resumption, without specifying the city or a timeline.
Unsurprisingly, production of the Cruise Origin is delayed. A GM spokesperson confirmed no prototypes or production models will be ready in 2024, with an indefinite production delay. Though GM has reportedly built a few prototypes, the short-term focus is on Bolt-based autonomous vehicles, postponing Origin assembly at Detroit’s Factory Zero.
Before permit suspension, the Origin was poised for a 2024 debut in a dozen U.S. cities, with additional plans for a Tokyo ride-hailing service. However, Origin faced challenges, designed without traditional controls, seeking a federal safety exemption from NHTSA. While Cruise expressed confidence in receiving the exemption and commencing mass production by the end of 2023, NHTSA’s response is still pending.
Cruise grapples with technical challenges, including crashes, Bolt-related traffic obstructions, and public backlash. The company must refine its self-driving technology, rebuild public trust, and address regulatory concerns before reintroducing autonomous vehicles. The self-driving dream, once on the horizon, appears distant in light of 2023’s hurdles.