General Motors last month admitted its Cruise unit won't meet a self-imposed goal of rolling out a commercial robotaxi service at scale this year.
It's the type of blown deadline you'd expect from Elon Musk — not Mary Barra or Dan Ammann — but it does illustrate just how hard AV development is — and how much the industry collectively underestimated the time needed for such vehicles to be ready.
"Anytime you're working on something that's never been done before — brand-new technology — a timeline is likely to move around a little bit," Barra said last week on the automaker's second-quarter earnings call. "We have line of sight on what we need to accomplish both from the technology development … [and] to make sure we have the right regulatory environment, as well."
The missed target didn't come as a surprise to readers of Automotive News. My friend Mike Wayland wrote in late June that technical and regulatory challenges put achievement of the goal in doubt.
The company still doesn't have an answer from federal regulators after requesting an exemption from safety standards to allow vehicles without brake pedals or steering wheels, although that may soon change.
"I wouldn't say there's impediments there, it's just work that still needs to be done," Barra said on the call.
What GM can control, however, appears to be moving in the right direction, even if the end result will come later than expected.
Barra said the automaker isn't waiting on some step-change in technology from a supplier to deploy the vehicles: It has everything it needs in-house. And it's continuing to iterate and expand testing in tricky environments such as San Francisco.
It's also trying to tackle the issue of public trust — or lack thereof — with what Barra calls a "well thought-out" marketing campaign targeted to cities where it tests.
Delayed deployment aside, GM is no laggard in the AV space. It has the talent necessary to handle the complex technical challenges, and it's taking the proper steps to ensure that, whenever it does launch, the vehicles will be safe and reliable.
That's something that can't be rushed.