General Motors is taking a more active role in shaping the safety culture at Cruise, following a string of incidents that prompted California regulators to suspend permits that allowed the self-driving car subsidiary to operate commercially in the state. The legacy automaker is inserting one of its own executives, who is also a Cruise board member, to head up the self-driving car company's legal and policy, communications and finance teams.
Craig Glidden, GM's EVP of legal and policy and a Cruise board member, will come on as chief administrative officer at Cruise. Glidden will oversee work streams around transparency and community engagement, according to Cruise.
Cruise said it will also pause all supervised and manual autonomous vehicle operations in the U.S., which the company says affects some 70 vehicles. Cruise had already voluntarily paused all of its driverless operations in cities across the country, including Houston, Austin and Phoenix, in order to "rebuild public trust" following an October 2 event that left a pedestrian, who had been hit by a human-driven vehicle, run over and dragged 20 feet by a Cruise robotaxi.
"This orderly pause is a further step to rebuild public trust while we undergo a full safety review," according to a blog post from the company announcing the changes.
In early November, Cruise hired consulting firm Exponent to conduct a technical root causes analysis of the October 2 incident. The company said Tuesday that remit will expand to include a comprehensive review of all of Cruise's safety systems and technology.
The Cruise board also said it would hire a third-party safety expert in the coming weeks to fully assess the company's safety operations and culture. The moves follows the lead of other AV companies, including those that have faced scrutiny over safety practices. Uber ATG, the ride-hailing company's former self-driving vehicle unit, hired former National Transportation Safety Board chairman Christopher Hart to advise the company on its safety culture after the May 2018 fatal self-driving car crash in Arizona.
The outside safety expert is in addition to last week's announcement that Cruise will hire a chief safety officer to report directly to CEO Kyle Vogt. Other AV companies such as Aurora have dedicated chief safety officers. Cruise did not respond in time to confirm whether the company had a dedicated executive overseeing safety at the company previously.
A survey that Blind, an anonymous forum for verified employees, conducted for TechCrunch found that half of the 136 Cruise employees surveyed are either not at all confident (32%) or only slightly confident (18%) in Cruise's safety culture. Over three-quarters of the Cruise employees, who were surveyed from November 7 to November 8, said they believed Cruise was trying to scale too quickly.
The changes come a day after Cruise and GM held a board meeting to discuss next steps for the embattled AV company. Vogt had warned staff last week that layoffs would be coming, and then the company began letting go contract workers.