GM Hires CEO Whitten for Troubled Cruise Robotaxi Service

Meanwhile, Waymo Opens Up Driverless Rides to Anyone in San Francisco
Marc Whitten
Marc Whitten, the new CEO of Cruise, has also worked at Microsoft (as an engineer for Xbox), Amazon and Sonos. (Ted S. Warren/Associated Press)

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General Motors on June 25 named a veteran technology executive with roots in the video game industry to steer its troubled robotaxi service Cruise as it tries to recover from a gruesome collision that triggered the suspension of its California license.

Marc Whitten, one of the key engineers behind the Xbox video game console, will take over as Cruise’s chief executive nearly nine months after one of the service’s robotaxis dragged a jaywalking pedestrian — who had just been struck by a vehicle driven by a human — across a darkened street in San Francisco before coming to a stop.

That early October 2023 incident prompted California regulators to slam the brakes on Cruise’s robotaxis in San Francisco. It had previously given the driverless vehicles approval to charge for rides throughout the second-densest city in the U.S. despite objections of local government officials who cited flaws in the autonomous technology.

General Motors, which had hoped Cruise would be generating $1 billion in annual revenue by 2025, has since scaled back its massive investments in the robotaxi service. The cutbacks resulted in 900 workers being laid off just weeks after Cruise co-founder and former CEO Kyle Vogt resigned from his job in the aftermath of crash that sent the pedestrian to the hospital.

The arrival of new leadership at Cruise came on the same day rival robotaxi service Waymo disclosed its driverless vehicles are ready to start picking up anyone in San Francisco who wants a ride within the city. Waymo had been only accepting requests from riders selected from a waiting list that had grown to 300,000 people.

A Cruise autonomous vehicle

A Cruise vehicle on the streets of Austin, Texas. (Aaron Perryman/Transport Topics)

It’s the second major city where Waymo’s robotaxis are open to all comers, joining Phoenix, where the driverless vehicles have been giving rides for several years.

Although Waymo’s vehicles so far haven’t been involved in any collisions like the one that sidelined Cruise, the company recently issued a voluntary recall that required delivering a software update throughout its fleet after one of its robotaxis hit a telephone pole in Phoenix.

Waymo taxi

A Waymo autonomous taxi in San Francisco. Anyone can now request a Waymo ride in that city. Originally, only those chosen from a waiting list — which had grown to 300,000 people — could get a ride. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg News)

RELATED: NHTSA Investigates Waymo Self-Driving Tech After Crashes

Whitten, who also has worked at Amazon and Sonos, will be taking over a robotaxi service facing far more daunting challenges. General Motors earlier this year disclosed that the U.S. Justice Department opened an inquiry into Cruise’s handling of the October crash in San Francisco. California regulators also fined Cruise $112,000 for its response to that collision.

In a statement, Whitten said he believes Cruise can still make transportation safer than it has been with humans behind the wheel of cars.

“It is an opportunity of a lifetime to be part of this transformation,” Whitten said. ”The team at Cruise has built world-class technology, and I look forward to working with them to help bring this critical mission to life.”

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