Cruise CEO Says Pairing With GM Has Been Rocky So Far

Integrating a startup into a legacy company is not easy, as Cruise and GM found out.

Timothy Healey
    Jul 25, 2017 8:30 AM  PT
Cruise CEO Says Pairing With GM Has Been Rocky So Far
author: Timothy Healey    

It can be hard for two companies to engage in a seamless partner, no matter how natural the fit may seem.

Just ask Cruise Automation CEO Kyle Vogt.

When General Motors acquired his company, a startup that builds out the technology that powers autonomous cars, the world took notice. Not only was it a major acquisition for a legacy automaker, but it seemed like a good fit, and it wasn't long before Cruise was testing self-driving Chevrolet Bolt EVs in San Francisco and in Scottsdale, Arizona.

However, Vogt, who also co-founded Cruise, recently told the Brainstorm TECH summit that the transition into the GM fold wasn't so easy. The summit was hosted by Fortune magazine and took place in Aspen, Colorado.

Rocky Start

"Working inside of a large company has not been smooth sailing, Vogt said at the event. "It took us probably six months to a year to really figure out how to work well together and to achieve what we have now, which is mutual respect."

He said that GM employees may have seen Cruise workers as arrogant and as trying to tell them how to do their jobs.

"I'm sure some people thought that at first," Vogt said. "It probably went way too far in that direction when we first got started."

What changed, he said, is that each company started to recognize what the other brought to the table in terms of skills and expertise.

Cruise Looks to GM for Guidance

"We identified that the folks with decades of experience building cars really know what they're talking about when it comes to assembly plants and how they put things together," Vogt said. "Over time I think we've developed a mutual understanding and figured out when it comes to software that's really complex and needs lots of cycles of iteration to achieve the level of perfection you need to replace a human driver that we should leverage Silicon Valley talent and the people at Cruise to do some of that work."

Vogt said Cruise could've stayed an independent company, and that would've prevented any possible culture clashes. But Vogt also said that his company's mission is to get autonomous vehicles to market as quickly as possible, and in his view Cruise needed to become a subsidiary of a larger company in order to attain that goal.

"When we looked at what GM brought to table, which has decades of automotive experience, assembly plants, lots of capital – there's no doubt we could accelerate that mission and compress the timeline by partnering with one of the biggest automakers in the world," Vogt said. "We had to sort of suck up our pride and do what was right for the mission here."