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GM appoints new Cruise Automation CEO amid increasing pressure to deliver

by Justin King

GM veteran Dan Ammann will now directly run the Cruise division, pushing aside co-founder Kyle Vogt.

General Motors president Dan Ammann has been appointed chief executive of Cruise Automation, pushing aside the startup's co-founder, Kyle Vogt, who currently serves as CEO.

Cruise Automation maintained a unique status as an independent business after it was acquired by GM in 2016, retaining its original CEO and San Francisco headquarters. The automaker apparently hoped the independence would allow the startup to maintain its Silicon Valley pace in the race to launch fully self-driving cars.

Amman's placement marks a shift in GM's strategy, hinting at impatience in Cruise's progress. The automaker revealed the first "mass producible" driverless vehicle more than a year ago and promised to commercialize the autonomous Chevrolet Bolt in 2019. Unofficially, however, several reports suggest Cruise may still be struggling to transition from prototype testing to production viability.

Just months after GM revealed a "production ready" autonomous Bolt, an anonymous insider estimated the company was still a decade away from broad commercialization. The autonomous prototypes were allegedly involved in frequent accidents or near-misses, requiring long detours around certain blacklisted roads or intersections that cause trouble. A more recent report claimed the cars are still failing to recognize pedestrians and experiencing difficulty determining whether objects on the road are stationary or moving.

Waymo engineering head Sacha Arnoud earlier this year lamented significant challenges preparing autonomous driving software, claiming that the first 90 percent of development took only 10 percent of the total effort. Waymo is widely viewed as the clear leader, thanks to Google's dominance in AI and a significant head start.

Dan Ammann says he will now "dedicate 100 percent of my time and energy to helping Kyle and the entire team realize our mission of deploying this technology at scale."