Cruise criticism sounds warning to AV industry
GM subsidiary failed to "appreciate how a regulated business should interact with its regulators," report finds.
A report on an October collision involving GM's autonomous vehicle (AV) subsidiary Cruise has found serious fault in the company's dealings with regulators.
The incident in San Francisco, in which a pedestrian was dragged beneath a car causing serious injury, led to the revocation of Cruise's license to operate by regulators.
While the findings exonerate Cruise of deliberately hiding details of the incident, the firm's conduct during the investigation is the target of sharp criticism.
"The DMV suspension order is a direct result of a proverbial self-inflicted wound by certain senior Cruise leadership and employees, who appear not to have fully appreciated how a regulated business should interact with its regulators," the report says.
The report lays out several failings on the part of Cruise including: poor leadership, mistakes in judgment, lack of coordination, an “us versus them” mentality with regulators and a fundamental misunderstanding of Cruises's obligations of accountability and transparency.
As well as the firm's corporate mismanagement, the soundness of Cruise's sensor and navigation technology also came under scrutiny.
A second report into the technical failings of the Cruise AV found that the car involved wrongly interpreted the collision as a side impact rather than a front impact, a factor which contributed to the dragging of the pedestrian. Other failings detected in the vehicle's system included incorrect lane mapping.
This is significant because, while Cruise has admitted to improper conduct during the investigation, the firm has been steadfast about the soundness of its technology.
"The side-collision error is a serious one, considering the pedestrian’s legs were visible in the wide angle left side camera the entire time after the Cruise-pedestrian impact. The car simply failed to identify the legs," says AV expert and consultant Brad Templeton.
In its response to the report, Cruise acknowledged fault for the incident, moved to establish a new Chief Safety Officer role, and appointed an interim leader while it began the search for a permanent hire.
The company also says that "experienced leaders" from GM have stepped in "to establish more robust and transparent processes for working with our regulators and engaging with the public".
The future of autonomous driving divides industry analysts, with some thinking that advanced AV technology will drive significant valuation growth for Tesla. However, several surveys have found consumer confidence in the tech to be shaky, and high-profile accidents and scalding criticism of Cruise from lawmakers will not help the AV cause.
Only 27pc of non-riders are comfortable sharing the road with robotaxis and just 20pc of all consumers nationally are comfortable with AV technology being tested on streets and highways near them, according to research from consultancy JD Power.
And the fallout from the Cruise incident has reverberated around the global EV industry, with industry commenters highlighting risks to AV projects at Chinese OEMs Baidu and Xpeng.
“In general, we remain pessimistic on the robotaxi self-driving sector, despite the segment being far ahead of the autonomous freight network segment,” Hong Kong consultancy Blue Lotus says.
Furthermore, Elon Musk-led EV giant Tesla has recently been embroiled in a spat with US regulators about its use of the name Full Self Driving for its Level 2 autonomy driver assistance software, after several litigations following crashes involving the system.