A taxi was launched this week, which customers can order via the app and then drive through San Francisco without a driver. Cruise LLC, an autonomous start-up owned by General Motors Co, is working with electric light commercial vehicle company BrightDrop on a plan to develop autonomous light commercial vehicles, people familiar with the case said. Initially, 30 cars are in use and are already fully booked. Innovation is welcome because it feels new to Disneyland, explains the CEO of Cruise in an interview with CNBC (video). By the end of the year, “hundreds” of robo-taxis are planned in San Francisco alone.
Cruise and BrightDrop started work early on that could eventually add an autonomous driving system to electric vans and potentially create a driverless parcel delivery service, said people who asked not to be named to discuss the collaboration. The resulting project could be the logical next step for GM, whose Cruise unit focused primarily on launching and running a robotaxi business and generating revenue.
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Despite the initial work, people warned that Cruise was still devoting most of its resources to robotaxi operations and said other autonomous vehicle programs will receive additional attention when this company is founded. The company offers free rides without driver protection in San Francisco and hopes the government will get approval to start charging next month.
Cruise and GM officials declined to comment. BrightDrop spokesman Daniel Roberts said in an email: “We cannot announce our partnership with Cruise at the moment, but we are always looking for new ways to create innovative and efficient delivery solutions for BrightDrop customers.”
Cruise’s other current priorities are the development of the Origin autonomous vehicle and the delivery initiative from Walmart Inc. to deliver merchandise from stores to customers. The Origin is a four to six passenger shuttle built specifically for Ride Sharing.
GM has high hopes for Cruise and BrightDrop. Mary Barra, CEO, said in October the automaker plans to double sales to $ 280 billion by 2030. Cruise’s projected sales growth is expected to be around $ 50 billion, while BrightDrop’s electric vans are expected to be around $ 10 billion.
The combination of these technologies aligns with Barra’s vision for GM of “zero accidents, zero emissions, zero traffic congestion.”
The collaboration between GM and Cruise has expanded and is likely to continue after former Cruise CEO Dan Ammann was ousted in December. GM bought back shares owned by Japanese investor SoftBank Vision Fund, giving the car maker an 80% stake. Barra has also abandoned the idea of a short-term spinoff from Cruise to ensure the two companies remain closely related.
Cruise has expanded routes in Phoenix to a pilot program with Walmart, which is also a Cruise investor. In January, the seller signed a contract to reserve 5,000 Zevo 600 and smaller Zevo 410 electric vans from BrightDrop to support the last mile delivery network.
BrightDrop also has an agreement with FedEx Corp. which has reserved priority production for 2,000 electric vans over the next few years. The deal complements FedEx’s 500 Electric Vehicle BrightDrop pre-booking announced last year. In addition, FedEx is working on a plan to add up to 20,000 more in the coming years.
BrightDrop CEO Travis Katz told Freightwaves in September that his unit and Cruise could work with BrightDrop vans for autonomous driving technology. People said no work was done at this point.
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