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GM Falls Millions of Miles Short on Cruise Driving Projection

David Welch and Keith Naughton
GM Falls Millions of Miles Short on Cruise Driving Projection

(Bloomberg) -- In late 2017, the co-founder of General Motors Co.’s self-driving unit told investors the company was on the verge of putting 1 million miles on its autonomous test cars a month.

That projection proved to be quite a stretch. GM Cruise logged less than 450,000 miles all of last year in California, according to a report released Wednesday.

The amount of mileage forecast by Kyle Vogt, who was Cruise’s chief executive officer at the time of the presentation 14 months ago, turned out to be unnecessary. The company decided to send newly built self-driving cars to San Francisco, where city driving is more difficult and testing was helping the cars learn faster, said Milin Mehta, a spokesman. As a result, the amount of testing in all locations was well short of the earlier goal.

“That target was based on expanding our resources equally across all our testing locations,” Mehta said. “Expanding resources in complex urban environments has been more important to developing safe self-driving vehicles than running up the miles in a simple suburban setting to hit an arbitrary mileage target.”

In January, former GM President Dan Ammann took over as CEO and Vogt became chief technology officer.

In retrospect, the amount of driving Vogt described looks wildly ambitious. Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo unit, which was founded about four years before Cruise, only tested 1.2 million miles in California, according to its 2018 report to the state.

Waymo, which also has autonomous vehicles on public roads in Arizona, racked up about 5 million miles nationwide in 2018. It began operating a robo-taxi service in the Phoenix area late last year.

The good news for GM: Cruise has significantly increased the number of miles its vehicles are driving in autonomous mode without needing human intervention. The 5,205 miles logged between disengagements was second only to Waymo among the companies that submitted 2018 reports to California.

GM is planning to operate a ride-sharing program with the public later this year using Cruise’s self-driving cars. During an investor presentation in January, CEO Mary Barra said the plan remains on schedule.

The automaker also indicated publicly for the first time this month that it may eventually spin off Cruise. It disclosed an incentive package for Ammann that pays out millions if he arranges a sales or initial public offering.

To contact the reporters on this story: David Welch in Southfield at dwelch12@bloomberg.net;Keith Naughton in Southfield, Michigan at knaughton3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Craig Trudell at ctrudell1@bloomberg.net

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