In an all-hands video conference call to Cruise staff on Monday afternoon, General Motors CEO Mary Barra attempted to re-energize the staff of Cruise, GM’s on-edge autonomous vehicle subsidiary, after its CEO and chief product officers both resigned following several weeks of enormous setbacks for the company.
“This is an opportunity to start our rebuilding,” she said, according to audio of the call obtained by Forbes. “And I think first and most important, I want you to know that you have my support and GM’s full support.”
Other top executives and even a Cruise board member spoke in succession during the meeting that lasted approximately 30 minutes. They all praised Cruise’s staff and mission, and seemingly expressed no doubts in the company’s near-term future despite numerous recent difficulties.
The company’s second cofounder, Dan Kan, announced his resignation hours before the meeting began; Cruise’s other cofounder and now-former-CEO Kyle Vogt, announced that he was leaving the company late yesterday.
“You can code in a lot of places in [Silicon] Valley without life and death consequences and I have deep respect for those of you working on this problem,” Jon McNeill, a Cruise and GM board member, said during the call. Barra also noted that GM was not appointing an interim CEO “at this time,” and neither she nor the other company leaders took any questions from the assembled Cruise staff.
The GM CEO underscored that she and GM’s leadership “believe” in what she called the “mission” of autonomous vehicles, despite the fact that Cruise has faced serious obstacles in recent weeks. During the past four years, Cruise has brought in barely a modicum of revenue, leading to collective losses of about $6 billion.
Earlier this month, in another all-hands call, Vogt had told staff that there would be job cuts forthcoming and that it would “take awhile for people to see that we’re serious.”
Over a year ago, Ford shut down Argo, its once-rival to Cruise after having lost billions of dollars on the venture. Waymo, a subsidiary of Alphabet, remains the top dog in the world of autonomous vehicles and its robotaxis continue to operate in California and Arizona.
The Cruise cofounders’ exodus comes several weeks after a critical October 2 accident in the company’s hometown of San Francisco that left a pedestrian in critical condition for weeks. In that incident, a woman was crossing a San Francisco street when she was hit by a human driver and flung into the path of an oncoming Cruise autonomous vehicle, which dragged her approximately 20 feet.
Several weeks ago, on October 24, the California DMV yanked Cruise’s operating permit, and two days later the company pulled all of its remaining AVs from its operational cities in Arizona and Texas. As recently as early October, then-CEO Vogt said on the Big Tech podcast that the company was set to exponentially increase in the coming years, reaching thousands of operational AVs next year, “and it will continue 10x growth every year for the foreseeable future.” At that time, Vogt imagined a near future where the company would first operate a robotaxi service, soon to be followed by “personal vehicle ownership” of AVs.
Previously, Cruise had targeted a rollout of its fleet to a total of 10 cities, including Nashville and San Diego by the end of 2023.Towards the end of the call, Mohamed Elshenawy, Cruise’s new president and chief technology officer, also told the staff something that he said he had never shared with anyone at the company before: that at the age of 10 his cousin “and best friend” was killed by a hit-and-run driver.
The poignant anecdote seemed to illustrate his own personal motivation to achieve safe and ubiquitous autonomous driving.
“I wanted to remind all of us why we are here,” he said. “This is not the easiest place to work. This is not the easiest mission to accomplish. But the mission itself is incredible. I know in difficult times it’s hard to remember that. But that’s what personally keeps me grounded. It’s a mission that we can really all be proud of. Companies are not defined by what happens in good times, they are defined by moments like this. I know we can rise to the occasion when tested. Cruise right now is being tested.”