Self-driving startup Cruise is launching fully driverless testing in San Francisco this year

cruise self driving car san francisco people walking
Cruise still hasn't announced when it will launch a commercial ride-hail service, but going fully driverless speaks to the company's confidence that it's nearly ready to bring paying customers aboard.
  • Cruise CEO Dan Ammann said that the self-driving startup would deploy fully self-driving electric vehicles in San Francisco this year.
  • The vehicles would have no safety driver behind the wheel, as allowed by a newly acquired California DMV permit.
  • As CEO, Ammann has heralded the end of car ownership and advocated for self-driving ride-hailing as a solution to global warming.
  • Cruise, acquired by GM in 2016, is now a standalone company valued at $20 billion.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Cruise CEO Dan Ammann has seen the light, and it turned out to be unsettlingly orange. 

"Like many of you, I looked through my window a few weeks ago and saw climate change up close and personal. No longer subtle or abstract, it was bright orange and everywhere," he wrote in a Medium post on Thursday, referring to the effect of wildfire smoke on the skies above the San Francisco Bay Area. "The problem suddenly seemed more massive and immediate than ever."

Ammann didn't just write the post to proclaim the perils of a changing climate. He also took the opportunity to announce that by the end of the year, Cruise, the self-driving startup partly owned and funded by General Motors, will start taking the human safety operators out of its all-electric, self-driving cars that roam San Francisco. 

Cruise still hasn't announced when it will launch a commercial ride-hail service, but going fully driverless speaks to the company's confidence that it's nearly ready to bring paying customers aboard.

Permission to do that comes via a permit from the California DMV, which Waymo, Zoox, Nuro, and AutoX have already received. 

"We're not the first company to receive this permit, but we're going to be the first to put it to use on the streets of a major US city," Amman wrote. "Before the end of the year, we'll be sending cars out onto the streets of SF — without gasoline and without anyone at the wheel. Because safely removing the driver is the true benchmark of a self-driving car, and because burning fossil fuels is no way to build the future of transportation."

The transformation of a Big Auto executive

General Motors President Dan Ammann, as seen at the company's self-driving car event with Cruise in San Francisco on November 28, 2017.
Dan Ammann become Cruise CEO in 2018.

Ammann's transformation from high-level Detroit executive to a leading advocate for the end of human driving and the internal-combustion engine has been notable. The former GM President moved into the CEO job at Cruise in 2018 and relocated from Detroit to the Bay Area.

San Francisco was already Cruise's base of operation and original home. Now, it will be the crucible in which the company puts self-driving technology through its paces. The company has long promised that it will launch its commercial service in the city.

"The chaotic, gritty streets of SF are our launchpad," Amman wrote.

"This is where years of blood, sweat, and tears have been poured out by everyone on the Cruise mission. And it's where over two million miles of city testing will truly hit the road for the first time: an electric car, driving by itself, navigating one of the most difficult driving cities in the world."

Earlier this month, Cruise rival Waymo said that its Waymo One service would go fully driverless in the Phoenix area, where the company has been testing for years and in 2018 launched its commercial effort, taking paying customers on rides.

Cruise is currently valued at about $20 billion, after investments from Softbank, GM, and Honda. GM acquired the company in 2016, for an all-in price of roughly $1 billion.

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