General Motors has failed to meet its self-set 2019 deadline for launching a robotaxi service on the streets of San Francisco, with Cruise Automation CEO Dan Ammann saying the target has been pushed back indefinitely.
“Anytime that you’re working on something that’s never been done before, it’s not surprising if timelines move around,” Ammann told Wired in an interview this week. “If we do it right from the outset, that’s what will allow us to scale it up rapidly.”
Cruise will spend the remainder of 2019, and likely most of 2020, carrying out more tests with its Chevrolet Bolt EV-based prototype vehicles. It plans to put more of them on San Francisco’s roads as well, although Ammann did not provide an exact figure. It currently has about 180 of the prototypes in operation.
“You’re going to see a lot more of (the Bolt EV prototypes), doing a lot more miles,” Ammann said.
Cruise will also begin to focus on all the other aspects of running an autonomous robotaxi service in San Francisco that aren’t related to the vehicles themselves, such as charging infrastructure, regulation and public perception.
Cruise Automation has raised over $7 billion in the past year, with its major investors including Japan’s SoftBank and GM’s long-time tech partner Honda. In May it was reported that Cruise Automation had a post-money valuation of $19 billion after GM purchased the company for just $ 1 billion in 2016. It currently has around 1,500 employees.
Those knowledgable about the self-driving car business will not be surprised to see Cruise Automation moving the goalposts. Many automakers and start-ups that have pledged to put fully autonomous vehicles on the road by a certain date have been forced to adjust the timeline as AVs prove to be more difficult to develop than initially thought.
Ford CEO Jim Hackett, who previously expressed confidence about the near-future of the AV industry, made headlines earlier this year when he said the company probably overestimated the arrival of AVs and acknowledged they are still quite a long way off.