Cruise will launch robotaxi services in Phoenix and Austin by the end of the year

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Cruise, the autonomous vehicle company owned by General Motors, will launch robotaxi service in Phoenix, Arizona, and Austin, Texas, before the end of 2022, the company’s CEO said today.

The company currently operates a ride-sharing service in just one city, San Francisco, where it received approval to start charging customers for rides earlier this year. This service took years to develop; Cruise now says he can do the same in two new cities in 90 days.

The company conducted standalone testing in Phoenix through a delivery partnership with Walmart. But it has yet to deploy any vehicles to Austin, which Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt said was unprecedented.

“In Austin, what really excites me is that we’re going from zero footprint — no map, no ground infrastructure — to our first revenue-generating driverless journeys in about 90 days,” Vogt said during from a speech at a Goldman Sachs conference on Monday. “It’s something that people thought would take years.”

Indeed, it took years for Cruise to launch its self-paying driverless taxi service in San Francisco. The company originally planned to unveil a commercial robotaxi service there in 2019, but didn’t after determining the technology wasn’t quite ready.

Cruise currently offers a range of services in San Francisco, from daytime rides in its self-driving vehicles with safety drivers behind the wheel to nighttime rides in its fully driverless cars. (The company is currently prohibited from offering driverless rides during the day.)

Currently, only a handful of AV operators have actually deployed fully driverless vehicles, also known as Level 4 autonomous vehicles, on public roads. Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving unit, has operated its Level 4 vehicles in suburban Phoenix for several years, including rides made by paying customers. And it plans to launch paid service in San Francisco and surrounding cities in the coming months.

Motional, a joint venture between Hyundai and Aptiv, is testing its L4 vehicles in Las Vegas. Yandex, the Russian tech giant, tested its Tier 4 vehicles in Las Vegas at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2020, but shut down operations in the United States after Russia invaded Ukraine. And Chinese tech company Baidu began testing its safety self-driving vehicles in its home country in late 2020.

In his comments today, Vogt hinted that Cruise’s relationship with GM gives him an edge over competitors, thanks to the latter’s expertise in manufacturing large-scale vehicles. This will allow Cruise to not only quickly deploy its vehicles to new cities, but also to do so while absorbing the costs associated with each new launch.

“Each of these new markets has overhead,” he said. “We’ve orchestrated a glide path, where on the one hand the technological improvements we make unlock new markets, like new capabilities – maybe very harsh weather conditions or other things – and on the other hand , you see us increasing manufacturing capacity to push vehicles into those markets.

Cruise’s current fleet is made up of Chevy Bolt electric vehicles equipped with sensors, such as a camera, radar and lidar. The company is testing its next-generation vehicle, the Cruise Origin, at a proving ground in Michigan, with plans to ramp up production next year.

“The Origin is a real vehicle now, and we’re currently testing it on closed courses,” Vogt said. “It’s really about self-driving here.”

Vogt predicted that Cruise would generate up to $1 billion in annual revenue by 2025 — a bold statement considering how slowly AV vehicles have been launched.

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