Home » GM’s Cruise Robotaxi Company Was Terrified Of The Media: Internal Report

GM’s Cruise Robotaxi Company Was Terrified Of The Media: Internal Report

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The saga of GM’s autonomous company, Cruise, continues today with the release of a report that shows numerous failings at the company. Specifically, it shows an executive leadership team so antagonistic toward the media and regulators that it refused to admit its car dragged a pedestrian until it was forced to do so.

It’s depressing, but it’s worth reviewing the accident and Cruise’s failings with regard to both Cruise itself and the oversight of General Motors. Now the oversight of the Justice Department is going to fill in where GM failed, because GM also clearly failed here.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

There’s a lot to talk about, so I’m going to include a bit about the Italian premier spanking Stellantis a bit for not being as Italian as the, uh, Dutch-Anglo-French-Italian-American company is supposed to apparently be. And, finally, going to cut all this angry news with more Škoda news, because you all deserve it.

Cruise Was Worried About “Media and Enemies”

Cruise Suspend Top

General Motors did the crisis management thing of hiring an outside law firm to do a report on how its driverless taxi subsidiary Cruise could have screwed up so badly. In case you’ve somehow missed it, on October 2nd a Cruise Robotaxi in San Francisco was out driving when a nearby Nissan struck a pedestrian and fled. Unfortunately, the Cruise robotaxi also hit the pedestrian and unknowingly dragged that pedestrian about 20 feet, trapping her under the car.

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This was already an awful event, made worse by Cruise’s decisions to withhold information from both the media and regulators, resulting in the company having its self-driving license revoked, shutting down its taxi service, and seeing its executive team either leave or get fired.

Now General Motors has released that report to the public (you can read the whole thing here) and it shows a company that seems more obsessed with perception than actual safety. This is absolutely no surprise to us as, in our experience, Cruise was always quick to try and deflect blame and was often upset with us for trying to accurately describe what we saw its vehicles doing in our reporting.

Ok, so back to the night of the incident. Because of the way the Cruise AV robotaxi sends information to home base it became clear that the initial collission was not the fault of the Cruise AV but the human-driven Nissan Sentra and that became what the company’s internal “war room” became fixated on (the police report would ultimately determine the pedestrian crossed against a DO NOT WALK signal). From the report:

At 11:50 p.m., the SVP of Government Affairs, Estrada, wrote to his VP of Global Government Affairs, Raman, that it “feels like we are fighting with both arms tied behind our back if we are so afraid of releasing an exonerating video, very naïve if we think we won’t get walloped by media and enemies.” In response, Raman captured well the feeling within Cruise’s senior leadership, stating: “we are under siege is my opinion, we have no fighting chance with these headlines/media stories…we are drowning — and we will lose every time.” In fact, the October 2 Accident was the “highest spike in coverage for any incident” Cruise had ever had, according to an analysis Cruise did in the aftermath of the event, resulting in 165 pieces of press coverage and more than 2,500 social media mentions.

This is shortly after the accident and the report makes it clear that the senior leadership team (SLT) had no idea that the car dragged the pedestrian. Also, it’s worth making clear that this “war room” had about 200 people in it, which is something the law firm behind the report makes clear is not a particularly effective way to respond to a crisis.

Founder and then-CEO Kyle Vogt jumps in and decides what should be shown to the media and what shouldn’t be. All of this happened late at night a few hours after the crash on October 2nd, and the report says the media strategy “focused exclusively on correcting the record that the Cruise AV had caused the Accident.”

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By early the next morning, engineers quickly deduced that the Cruise robotaxi did drag the pedestrian to the side of the road, pinning her under the car. From what GM revealed it appears that engineers and mid-level staffers were concerned with identifying what really happened and communicating that with the senior leadership.

You can probably guess what happened next:

As a result of this new information, Vogt, Communications VP McLear, and other employees discussed whether to amend Cruise’s initial media communications, including its social media statement, to disclose the pullover maneuver and pedestrian dragging. According to one interviewee, “the outcome [of these discussions] was whatever statement was published on social we would stick with because the decision was we would lose credibility by editing a previously agreed upon statement.”

Yes, because the best way to retain your credibility is to mislead reporters by withholding key information. To me, as a long-time journalist, seeing reports like this drives me absolutely bonkers. In what universe would this information not eventually come out?

Cruise continued to show an edited version of the incident video to reporters well after the company was aware that the Crusie robotaxi dragged the victim. To the credit of the unnamed reporters, many of them did inquire as to why the full information wasn’t shared. The report explains why:

A message between two Cruise employees, one of whom attended the 6:45 a.m. SLT meeting, confirmed that the SLT “agreed to not share anything just yet . . . seems like SLT leaning towards not sharing unless we’re backed into a corner.” In light of this decision, the Cruise communications team continued to screen-share the Media Video well into the afternoon of October 3 with such media outlets as CBS News, SFGate, KRON4, KPIX, and Crain’s Business, despite knowing that the video stopped at the point of impact and omitted key details of the Accident.

That is extremely damning. The rest of the report, which we’ll discuss in another story, shows how this attitude continued in interactions with regulators and what company representatives did or did not say.

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The conclusions from the attorneys with regard to the media make a lot of sense:

The tragic Accident of October 2 would never have occurred but for a human hit-and-run driver. But that is only part of the story, as the AV’s pullover maneuver unfortunately dragged the already injured pedestrian another 20 feet. Then, due to poor leadership and mistakes of judgment, Cruise focused on rebutting erroneous media stories as to the Accident’s cause, rather than also ensuring the communication of material facts to its regulators and other government officials, the media, and the public. These mistakes made matters worse—ultimately to the detriment of Cruise.

Again, no one who had to deal with Cruise during this period is going to be surprised by this.

The Justice Department Will Investigate Cruise, But What About The Board?

Cruise Bod
Source: Cruise

It’s great that General Motors released the internal report, which pretty thoroughly tosses the leadership of Cruise at the time under the… maybe this is bad metaphor. General Motors was helpful in releasing a report that shows the leadership of Cruise performed terribly and, clearly, that there was an awful management culture at the company.

Who appointed that leadership, exactly? The Board of Directors is ultimately responsible for what happens at a company and the Cruise Board of Directors includes Mary Barra, Mark Reuss, Craig Glidden, and other GM employees/ Board members.

The report does not, in my reading of it, include much in the way of communications between Cruise’s leadership and its own Board of Directors. What did GM CEO Mary Barra know and when did she know it? What did the rest of the board know? How was this culture allowed to persist at the company?

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What we did learn yesterday was that both the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department are investigating Cruise and maybe they can tell us what happened. Via the Associated Press, we don’t know much:

GM didn’t release any details about the nature of the Justice Department’s investigation, or of another one by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. A company spokesman would only say GM is cooperating with authorities.

The revelations about the latest troubles facing Detroit-based GM and San Francisco-based Cruise came in a report reviewing how things were handled after the pedestrian was hurt.

The question of how the Board of Directors responded to all of this and what they knew is going to be important in judging whether or not Cruise can be made into a trustworthy company again.

Italy Is Maaaaaaaaad At Stellantis

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Credit: Instagram

Do I love writing about Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni because I get to use this photo of her with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic? I think we know this is true.

But that’s not the story! The story is Meloni is not pleased with Stellantis and its CEO Carlos Tavares.

From the AP via The Detroit News:

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As one of Italy’s top private sector employers, Fiat and its successors, Fiat Chrysler and then Stellantis, have always gotten government attention, but rarely have premiers been so pointed in their comments. Meloni also characterized the merger that created Stellantis in 2021 as a French takeover.

The French are coming! The French are coming! It gets better:

“If you want to sell cars on the international market advertised as Italian jewels, then these cars need to be produced in Italy,” Meloni said.

I feel like there was probably no mention in this speech of Stellantis passing off Italian-made Jeeps as American jewels, but oh well. Tavares was actually in Italy at the time so reporters got to ask him about it:

Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares, who was visiting a plant in Abruzzo, told reporters that he didn’t think the company’s Italian workers would appreciate Meloni’s characterizations.

“We have more than 40,000 workers in Italy who work very hard to adapt the company to the new reality, as decided by politicians, and they are full of talent,’’ he said.

“As decided by politicians.” LOLOLOLOL.

Škoda Celebrates 25 Years In Rally

Skoda Rally Cars

Hell yeah. The 2024 World Rally Championship kicks off this weekend with the Monte Carlo Rally and we get to celebrate 25 years of Škoda rally cars. Please enjoy:

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Skoda Fabia Jump

Skoda Octavia Rally

Skoda Fabia Rally

What I’m Listening To As I Write This

This is a weird one to explain. Imagine if Leonard Cohen wrote a pop album, I guess? I’m going to include Self Esteem’s “I Do This All The Time” from her album “Prioritise Pleasure” because it’s the easiest gateway drug into the album and is the most Cohen-esque. It’s really good and the whole album is extremely listenable. The production is pretty straightforward so you’ll want to pay attention lest you miss some absolute wallops in the lyrics: “Sexting you at the mental health talk seems counterproductive.”

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The Big Question

Is Cruise salvageable at this point?

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The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
2 months ago

> That is extremely damming

It’s not.

Its extremely damning. :p

Freelivin1327
Freelivin1327
2 months ago

Cruise should cease to exist

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
2 months ago

“If you want to sell cars on the international market advertised as Italian jewels, then these cars need to be produced in Italy,” Meloni said.”

Meh… Join the club Meloni. Over here in North America, Stellantis’ marketing people want us to still believe that brands like Ram, Jeep, Dodge and Chrysler are ‘American’ and not foreign-owned brands that happen to build some vehicles locally in the same way Toyota does.

Myk El
Myk El
2 months ago

Is Cruise salvageable at this point?

Only if he completely disavows Scientology

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
2 months ago
Reply to  Myk El

And also cuts it out with his anti-psychiatry schtick.

SaabaruDude
SaabaruDude
2 months ago

“Self Esteem” in the world of music can only mean The Offspring.

Saul Springmind
Saul Springmind
2 months ago
Reply to  SaabaruDude

la, la, la-LA-LA LA LA!

Last edited 2 months ago by Saul Springmind
Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
2 months ago

Seems like GM could use some Cruise control.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
2 months ago

“Is Cruise salvageable at this point?”

They could pivot. Their technology might be very useful for crash testing.

Ben
Ben
2 months ago

These are the people being allowed to self-regulate the AV industry right now. And don’t kid yourself that Cruise is a one-off here, every tech company behaves this way.

Chronometric
Chronometric
2 months ago

Maybe I’m cynical. Maybe I’ve been in too many management meetings where corporate rats were scurrying to find shelter. I find nothing about Cruise to be shocking or even beyond expected corporate behavior. Note I didn’t say it wasn’t wrong or immoral. But since when do we expect corporations or businesspeople to be responsible or moral?

Cruise knew that they were sucking money and underproducing. In the corporate world that puts you on thin ice and any bad press could send them under. The severity of the incident didn’t really matter. The logical response to this situation is to obfuscate and hope it blows over. It didn’t, and the expected consequence came to pass.

Jack Swansey
Jack Swansey
2 months ago

I’ve just made the jump up to WRC2 in my WRC 23 Career Mode save – there was no question which car I’d use.

This is a Skoda household.

Data
Data
2 months ago

Cruise survived the Oprah couch jumping incident and has even thrived since. The box office for the latest Mission Impossible movie was disappointing, but I suspect most people didn’t want to wait a few years for part 2; it’s not Star Wars.

Cruise will be back on top when Top Gun 3 or Edge of Day After Tomorrow/Live Die Repeat Repeat opens.

Last edited 2 months ago by Data
S13 Sedan
S13 Sedan
2 months ago
Reply to  Data

Don’t forget about the rumored Days of Thunder sequel. I know the public perception of Cruise was generally pretty negative for a while but I think enough time has passed to where we’re all ready to give Cruise another shot.

PresterJohn
PresterJohn
2 months ago

Tavares gets a lot of (well-deserved) heat in this and other publications but that is an all-time clap back.

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
2 months ago
Reply to  PresterJohn

Both Tavares and Meloni are scum and they deserve each other.

Hoonicus
Hoonicus
2 months ago

“an awful management culture at the company ” I haven’t had the
“pleasure” of dealing with GM management for twenty years now, but that was my impression then, and I believe the reason for the long agonizing history of shooting itself in the foot.

John Beef
John Beef
2 months ago

Cruise just needs to pull a ValuJet and purchase some other company just to take their name.

Hoonicus
Hoonicus
2 months ago
Reply to  John Beef

ChemLawn

Brian Ash
Brian Ash
2 months ago

It’s been almost 4 months since the Cruise incident, yet almost every GM/Chevy truck commercial I see focuses on using Super Cruise while towing something. You are a complete idiot if you use any kind of self driving while towing, and how long until there is a disaster with someone doing that.

Vee
Vee
2 months ago

it shows a company that seems more obsessed with perception than actual safety

This is true of most tech startups and tech fund companies. They don’t care if what they’re making is safe, has a valid use case, or even works. They care about making a highly visible thing that can get the company bought out, and if not, get the next round of venture capital funding. Look at home automation speakers and digital assistants, devices sold in the millions that nobody could figure out how to make money on and which people abandoned after one try because hundreds of better interfaces exist. With the free money of the 2010s having dried up a lot of these companies and their stupid pointless products are about to dry up as well. The poison is that after over a decade of the fastest growing companies operating like this, others have started to follow their example on how to operate while not understanding why they operate that way. Thus perception is more important than everything else, as a poor perception can kill the entire company.

Andrew Wyman
Andrew Wyman
2 months ago

Those Skoda rally cars are gorgeous. I have always loved their colors. The Kawasaki of the car rally world.

Fuzzyweis
Fuzzyweis
2 months ago

That Cruise stuff all sounds terrible and exactly whey testing without a standby driver on public roads is just a bad idea.

It just reinforces my assumption that car companies and their affiliates will get away with any and all things they can, they are not our friends. Could’ve paid for drivers, especially with the multi-billion dollar evaluation, but nope, one of their cars is in an accident they go into panic mode, they find out their car did a bad thing, worse panic mode.

Should’ve never even been an issue, put a driver in it, big old red stop button on the dash that lets them take over. We’ve seen from Uber test driving that’s still not foolproof but better than what they had.

VanGuy
VanGuy
2 months ago
Reply to  Fuzzyweis

One thing I think has been discussed was whether a human driver would’ve done better in the same situation…and I’m not sure. It’s bad that it happened, but beyond broadly getting more people onto public transit, it was just a bad situation. (Also, maybe something about “don’t let ‘perfect’ get in the way of ‘better than humans’, etc.)

I’m not focused on the event itself so much as their communication about it.

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
2 months ago
Reply to  Fuzzyweis

> testing without a standby driver on public roads is just a bad idea.

Testing with a standby driver got someone killed in Arizona.

Nick Ginther
Nick Ginther
2 months ago

Is Cruise salvageable at this point?

Does anyone actually care? Who asked for robot taxis?

Spikedlemon
Spikedlemon
2 months ago
Reply to  Nick Ginther

Does it mean I no longer have to hear any creepy taxi/uber driver comment ever again?
Sign me up.

Thinks people think they can say

Nick Ginther
Nick Ginther
2 months ago
Reply to  Spikedlemon

Ha fair point.

Vee
Vee
2 months ago
Reply to  Nick Ginther

Richer people than us who wanted an excuse to prevent change and keep public transit in critical condition.

Data
Data
2 months ago
Reply to  Nick Ginther

If we can get Robert Picardo (aka The Doctor (But not Doctor Who)) as a snarky robot cabbie, sign me up. Thank you for using Johnny Cab.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
2 months ago
Reply to  Nick Ginther

Uber!

Pupmeow
Pupmeow
2 months ago

Wow look at the makeup of that Board. DEI really has changed the world, hasn’t it?

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
2 months ago
Reply to  Pupmeow

Came here to basically say the same. More proof of how boardroom diversity is ruining American companies. /s

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
2 months ago

Hey I get all the snark but it’s still pretty remarkable a woman is running a car company.

SNL-LOL Jr
SNL-LOL Jr
2 months ago

But, but… Without DEI who could St. Elon blame Cruise’s recent troubles?

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago

Truly mishandled especially given they probably had a Holy Grail out. First despite journalists opinion they owe the media nothing. Second provide it to the authorities are investigating. They as are by their nature secretive and ask not to provide any information to the press as it might interfere with the investigation. Then tell the media we have provided everything to the authorities and at their request are not commenting to the media so as not to interfere in the investigation.

Does anyone really want an Italian built automobile? Frankly Italian build quality is why there are not many Italian manufacturers of mass market vehicles

Last edited 2 months ago by Mr Sarcastic
Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
2 months ago

I mean, she does have a slight point, the most recent “Italian jewels” the US got from the Fiat brand were

500 – Mexico
500L – Serbia
124 Spider – Japan
500X – OK, that one was Italian

But, still, if you’re going to wrap yourself in the tricolor and use so much heavy Italian imagry in your marketing, I don’t know, maybe it would be helpful to not do so much of a copy of Apple’s “Designed in California” thing

Volvo is pretty similar, what are they down to now, like 2 Swedish models sold here?

Lots of companies have global manufacturing, but not all of them trade so heavily on their national heritage as part of their branding

Matt Sexton
Matt Sexton
2 months ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

It’s kind of like all the Union Jacks on all those Thailand-built Triumphs.

SNL-LOL Jr
SNL-LOL Jr
2 months ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

Among world leaders no one exemplifies “delusion of grandeur” like Giorgina Meloni.
The last time her country mattered was during the Roman times.

Anxious John
Anxious John
2 months ago

More executives need to be put in prison. That’s what I take from this Cruise story. Not fired or resignation with golden parachute. Lengthy prison time and huge penalties levied against the company. The tech grifter CEOs have really ruined a lot things the past 10-20 years and there needs to be some sanity brought back.

Pupmeow
Pupmeow
2 months ago
Reply to  Anxious John

100000% agree. The near impossibility of making corporate executives pay for their on-the-job actions, even when criminal, is a huge problem in the US.
Don’t get me wrong- there’s a good reason to allow for a separation of liability between the corporate entity and the employees. But that separation should be penetrable when actions escalate from, “Oops, bad decision we made there,” to “Let’s make decisions that will actively hurt people so we can get richer!”

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
2 months ago
Reply to  Pupmeow

No. The way this works is that the board is accountable to the shareholders so the shareholders have to sue the board and the board pays them off with their own damn money. You really don’t understand impunity at all do you? 😉

JunkerDave
JunkerDave
2 months ago
Reply to  Pupmeow

Jail time for corporations. After the sentence, freeze their bank accounts and send the marshals around to padlock their premises for the duration. After the first 30-day sentence, GM stockholders will really be paying attention to behavior in the corporate suites.

If corporations are going to get the rights of people (like free speech), let them get the raps too.

Last edited 2 months ago by JunkerDave
Man With A Reliable Jeep
Man With A Reliable Jeep
2 months ago

The Board of Directors is ultimately responsible for what happens at a company and the Cruise Board of Directors includes Mary Barra, Mark Reuss, Craig Glidden, and other GM employees/ Board members.

Nobody among those names will be held responsible. Culpability for any wrongdoing will be shifted onto some poor sap middle-management-type who gets a miniature golden parachute for taking the rap.

Drew
Drew
2 months ago

Is Cruise salvageable at this point?

Sadly, yes. As long as the hype around self-driving and AI remains high, Cruise is worth something. It’s a company that has put self-driving cabs on the roads, and that will get people past the fact that those self-driving cars have glaring issues.

The only ways it will be unsalvageable is if a bunch of other companies get their cars on the road, regulators shut Cruise down, or people decide self-driving tech isn’t the future. Of those options, I think the first is most likely. I’d rather see them get shut down, but I don’t see more than a slap on the wrist for this.

Last edited 2 months ago by Drew
Ben
Ben
2 months ago
Reply to  Drew

I would argue the last is more likely. I think over the next decade or less people are going to realize that the practical uses for autonomous cars are much more limited than originally believed and the crazy valuations for these companies are not justified. I expect AI to follow a similar trajectory, perhaps a few years delayed since it will hit peak hype a later than AVs did.

Drew
Drew
2 months ago
Reply to  Ben

That’s fair. I hope you’re right. The hype needs to cool off on these things. I’m afraid we’re going to see the AV market oversaturated before the hype dies, and that’s not going to be great. Too many companies vying to be the next big thing is going to lead to more accidents and more coverups.

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