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Inside GM Cruise's Layoffs

GM Cruise CEO Dan Ammann.
Photo credit: General Motors

As already widely reported, GM Cruise, the self-driving arm of automaker General Motors, recently cut 8% of its staff. 8% of the company's workforce represents about 150 people in total. According to a source familiar with the matter, the layoffs mostly affected staff across GM Cruise's business strategy, design, recruiting, and product development teams. Some engineering personnel at the company were also affected by the layoffs.

Cruise as a company doesn't yet have a commercial product, so one can't say the layoffs were as the result of a revenue downturn. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, as some companies have resorted to layoffs due to substantial revenue declines, some seem to have also resorted to job cuts to prepare for a plausible future where it'll be significantly harder to raise more funding. GM Cruise may just be in that situation. Another deduction could be that the company is just looking to downsize its workforce a bit as Cruise seems to still be actively hiring, according to reports from several sources. Also according to a source, GM Cruise set a goal last year to double its workforce by the end of 2020. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, however, it's unclear if the company still stands by this goal.

Cruise as a company has experienced some issues pertaining to meeting its goals and its general company culture. According to a source, some teams at the company have been rife with complaints of significant drama and infighting, what's otherwise referred to as a toxic workplace. Specifically, the company's "Maps" team has been one marred with high attrition rates and lots of tech debt. Internally, the leader of the Maps team is referred to as the "DivTator" due to his leadership style. That team, in particular, has been rife with reports of low work-life balance.

GM Cruise has also had some issues with meeting its own set goals. The company previously set a goal of deploying commercial self-driving cars by 2019 but that never panned out. Also in 2019, Cruise was reported to have fallen short of its own self-driving mileage predictions. GM Cruise isn't the only self-driving company to have somewhat fallen into the trap of missing its goals. The likes of Uber, Tesla, and Waymo also happen to have missed and reset previously set goals, presumably after finding out how difficult it'll be to launch commercial self-driving cars at scale. If one were to go by predictions made over the preceding decade, there would have been commercial self-driving fleets rolling across the U.S. currently, but that isn't the case by a stretch. Self-driving companies were apparently way too optimistic with their predictions. Generally, it's somewhat accepted that the deployment of commercial self-driving may be a decade away. As of now, GM Cruise is still in test mode, with its self-driving cars used mostly by employees at the company.

Before the layoffs, GM Cruise had about 2,000 employees. Even with the layoffs, its employee headcount will still hover around that number. Cruise isn't the only self-driving company that has recently laid off employees. The likes of Zoox, Ike, Starship Technologies, and Velodyne, the company that supplies most of the lidars used in self-driving cars, have also recently had job cuts. In all, more than 400 people across self-driving companies have lost their jobs in the last few months, according to layoffs tracking website Layoffs.fyi.





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