In 2023, the present often carries a futuristic vibe, marked by the pervasive influence of artificial intelligence. Services like ChatGPT, crafted by human hands (rest assured, this article is a product of human intellect), underscore the surge in AI utilization. Apple, not to be outdone, ushered in the era of mixed reality with its Vision Pro headset, while Las Vegas unveiled the LED-draped Sphere, redefining entertainment and advertising.
Yet, amidst this technological crescendo, certain futuristic promises appear elusive. Driverless cars, a pledge echoed by executives (perhaps those with a notable affinity for the name Elon Musk) for nearly a decade, remain tantalizingly distant. Cruise, a subsidiary of General Motors, unveiled the Origin, its driverless pod, in 2020, confidently predicting production initiation this year. However, a succession of setbacks involving Cruise’s self-driving Chevrolet Bolt EV prototypes not only derailed Origin production but also dealt a significant blow to the company’s overall operations.
Cruise commenced autonomous driving trials with Chevy Bolts in 2021, sans human drivers, initially in San Francisco and subsequently expanding to Phoenix, Miami, Austin, Houston, and Dallas within the past year. Unfortunately, a series of high-profile accidents raised safety apprehensions.
The culmination was a harrowing incident on October 2, where a Cruise vehicle involved in a collision with a pedestrian previously struck by a human-driven car continued to travel for an additional 20 feet, dragging the injured pedestrian. Allegations of misreporting by Cruise executives prompted the California Department of Motor Vehicles to suspend the company’s self-driving permits indefinitely on October 24. Subsequently, Cruise suspended its operations, and last week, CEO Kyle Vogt and COO Daniel Kan resigned.
A recent internal communication disclosed Cruise’s revised future plans, according to Automotive News. Contrary to the initial goal of expanding to 13 cities, the company now plans to resume driverless taxi rides in just one city when operations recommence. The specific city and the timeline for reintroducing vehicles remain unspecified.
Unsurprisingly, the production of the Cruise Origin faces delays. A GM spokesperson conveyed that neither prototypes nor production models would be rolling off the line in 2024, with production deferred indefinitely. The short-term focus, the spokesperson noted, would center on Bolt-based autonomous vehicles. The Origin, initially intended for assembly at GM’s Factory Zero in Detroit, where the GMC Hummer EV is produced, finds itself in a holding pattern.
Before the permit suspension, the Origin was on the verge of hitting the streets within the next year, with plans for a fleet launch in multiple U.S. cities. Cruise even announced a ride-hailing service using the Origin in Tokyo shortly before operations were suspended.
The Origin faced additional challenges because it was designed without a steering wheel, accelerator, or brake pedals. General Motors sought an exemption from federal safety standards for this lounge-on-wheels, submitting a request to the NHTSA in February 2022. Despite Cruise’s earlier confidence in receiving the exemption and commencing mass production by the end of 2023, there has been no response from the NHTSA.
It is evident that Cruise must address numerous issues with its Bolt-based autonomous vehicles before the Origin can become a reality. Beyond addressing crashes, the Bolts have been known to obstruct intersections and impede emergency responders, exacerbated by the absence of occupants within. The company’s public image has also taken a hit, with San Francisco residents rebelling against autonomous vehicles by placing traffic cones on their hoods.
Cruise faces the dual challenge of refining its self-driving technology and earning trust from both the government and the public before reintroducing its autonomous Bolts to American streets. The dream of self-driving cars, it seems, remains a distant horizon.