Cruise starts pre-production on its autonomous space shuttle thanks to $5 billion from GM

Cruise starts pre-production on its autonomous space shuttle thanks to $5 billion from GM

“$10 billion. It’s a big number.” It’s a lot of money to spend on a vehicle powered by an autonomous driving technology that still is in the testing phase. Cruise hasn’t launched its ride-hail service yet, nor has it revealed an actual working version of the Origin. The company has a beta ride-hailing service, but it’s only available to employees, and Cruise won’t say when it will be available to the broader public.

Cruise CEO Dan Ammann said the new financing “bumps up Cruise’s total war chest to over $10 billion as we enter commercialization.” This will help the company as its fully autonomous shuttles enter series production at the GM Detroit-Hamtramck Plant (rebranded as Factory Zero) sometime in 2022. Ammann writes in a blog post, “$10 billion. It’s a big number.” “However, when you think about what we’re building — safer, cleaner, and more accessible transportation for the world — you quickly realize it’s also a necessary number.” Cruise had planned to roll out a commercial service in San Francisco in 2019, but ultimately postponed those plans and has yet to announce a new date. Cruise is under pressure from its investors, namely SoftBank, to launch a commercial robotaxi service. The company recently received a permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles to test fully driverless cars without human safety drivers in San Francisco. And it announced plans to begin testing its Origin vehicles in Dubai starting in 2023.

Ammann says that over the last few weeks he has overseen the building of “nearly a hundred pre-production Origins” at GM’s Pre-Production Operations center. “These will undergo an intensive testing and validation process this summer,” he writes. “Seeing them up close and in person is absolutely thrilling.” It’s unclear whether the legal landscape regulating automobile safety will change in time for Cruise to release the Origin shuttle, which lacks traditional human controls. Cruise will need an exemption from the federal government’s motor vehicle safety standards, which require vehicles to have a steering wheel and pedals. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) only grants 2,500 such exemptions a year. (There is legislation to increase that number to 25,000, but it is currently stalled in the Senate.)

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