Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story included an employment goal for GM regarding autonomous vehicles that was misidentified as an objective for Cruise only. The reference has been deleted.
Halfway through 2019, General Motors is running short on time to meet its goal of launching a large-scale fleet of robotaxis by the end of the year.
Dan Ammann, the company's former president who now leads its autonomous- vehicle unit in San Francisco, has GM Cruise cranking away to meet the ambitious plans, but it may be too little too late to overcome unexpected government hurdles and reported technical issues to launch the service on time, at least how the automaker initially planned. GM has yet to submit an application to the State of California to get approval for the service, a process that has never been done and could take weeks, if not months.
"We're working aggressively," GM CEO Mary Barra said last month when asked about Cruise. "Our rate of iteration continues to improve. So, that is the position we're in and that's the approach that we have, and we're very much looking forward to rolling out this technology because we do believe it will save lives."
The vision GM laid out in November 2017 called for launching a public ride-hailing service using self-driving vehicles in "dense urban environments" and with no backup driver aboard.
But given the obstacles that still remain, it's more likely any service GM starts this year would be much more limited in scope, perhaps only in San Francisco with human safety drivers behind the wheel.
It would still be a major milestone but not the aggressively timed breakthrough GM promised.
"Everybody in the industry underestimated how hard a problem this was going to be, and I think GM probably was a little overambitious," said Sam Abuelsamid, a principal research analyst at Navigant Research. "It's a mix of … a harder problem to solve and they're just not making the progress they had hoped for."