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Cruise, GM-backed self-driving company, teases life ‘beyond the car’

Cruise, GM-backed self-driving company, teases life ‘beyond the car’


‘The status quo of transportation is broken’

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Image: GM

Cruise, the self-driving car company backed by General Motors, is teasing an “alternative” to pollution-spewing, congestion-causing motor vehicle traffic. In a Medium post published on Wednesday, Cruise president Dan Ammann said it was time to “move beyond the car.”

Ammann, the former president of GM who now leads the autonomous vehicle firm in San Francisco, lays out the ills of our car-centric world — congestion, carbon emissions, underutilization, and tens of thousands of deaths annually — before pondering “alternatives that are superior to the status quo in every way.”

“The status quo of transportation is broken,” Ammann writes, “and ... our need to find better solutions grows more urgent every day.”

Taking a step back, Ammann’s words are fairly stunning. Here’s a guy who, until recently, was the number two in charge of one of the biggest car companies in the world, telling us that our world of “human-driven, gasoline-powered, single-occupant cars” is “crazy,” and we need to start thinking seriously about alternatives. It’s pretty amazing stuff.

What kind of alternatives does Cruise have in mind? Ammann also spends some time setting up and then knocking down the alternatives to cars that have cropped up in recent years.

  • Public transportation “requires massive investment that many cities simply cannot afford”
  • Micromobility solutions, like electric bikes and scooters, “only solves first/last mile problems for a small segment of the population, and only in certain communities”
  • Ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft, once hailed as a “disruption,” have actually “only served to further entrench the status quo” by subsidizing human-driven, gasoline-powered cars

“To make order-of-magnitude — rather than incremental — improvements in transportation, we need to build alternatives that are superior to the status quo in every way,” Ammann writes.

Cruise’s mission, he says, is as follows:

Improve safety by removing the human driver, reduce emissions by being all-electric, and reduce congestion through making shared rides more compelling by providing an awesome experience at a radically lower cost.

Sounds good, but it’s been tough going for the company in recent months. In July, Cruise announced that it would miss its goal of launching a large-scale self-driving taxi service in 2019. But while the company won’t be launching a commercial product this year, it did plan to dramatically increase the number of its autonomous test vehicles on the road in San Francisco. The company’s sensor-laden, battery-powered Chevy Bolt test vehicles are already a ubiquitous sight in the city by the bay.

As for how Cruise plans to specifically move “beyond the car,” Ammann would only say “more to come.”