In this episode of our CleanTech Talk podcast interview series, CleanTechnica CEO Zach Shahan sits down with Rob Grant, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs and Social Impact at Cruise, to talk about Cruise’s work in the autonomous vehicle space. You can listen to the full conversation in the embedded player below. Below that embedded SoundCloud player is a brief summary of the topics covered, but tune into the podcast to follow the full discussion.
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Rob has been with Cruise, a company founded in 2013 that has been a leading player in self-driving technology using electric vehicles, for about 2½ years. Prior to his time at Cruise, Rob worked with a number of other firms in the autonomous vehicle space, such as Aurora, and also helped launch the policy arm of Lyft, whose Director of Sustainability was the guest on another recent CleanTech Talk podcast. Before all of that, Rob spent 15 years of his career in Washington D.C. as a staffer in the US Senate.
As Rob explains, Cruise was founded with the mission of addressing some of the biggest challenges in transportation concerning safety, environmental pollution, and accessibility. The idea was to create a business case for a ride-sharing service that was all electric, more accessible, and more equitable than the offerings that were available, he says. Over the last six years, Cruise has been conducting extensive testing to make this a reality. Their next steps, Rob notes, include moving toward commercialization and offering a level-four ride-sharing system that also provides delivery services.
Zach and Rob dive into some of the regulatory and logistical hurdles that Cruise has worked through in order to gain a number of permits in California. Rob hopes that soon, they will be able to get the right permits to allow individuals to pay to take a fully autonomous ride.
Zach is also interested in the delivery side of the autonomous vehicle equation, and Rob agrees that the delivery vehicle market can be the first step for AVs to get people comfortable with the technology before moving people around. However, Rob explains that Cruise is aiming to provide autonomous vehicles for both delivery and people as they run both business lines in parallel.
Rob mentioned the Cruise Origin, launched a little more than a year ago, as having the vehicle body type that is ideally suited for robotaxi service. Cruise plans to scale up with this vehicle model, which uses GM’s Ultium batteries.
The two briefly discuss California’s new law allowing autonomous driving companies to not only operate autonomous vehicles in the state, but to also collect fares from customers in them, after getting the requisite permits. Cruise is working to get those permits right now.
Cruise is also working on technology in the EV charging space. In fact, they have a project in San Francisco that will be one of the largest charging stations in all of North America. When completed, Rob says the station will be the single largest charging station for a ride-hailing fleet in North America. Rob sees Cruise’s role as being a leader in the EV charging space to bring others along faster in adopting EVs and showing how this technology can help California. In fact, Cruise is also the first autonomous vehicle company to be 100% powered by renewable energy.
Zach wraps up this episode by highlighting that Cruise is not just a pioneer in the autonomous vehicle space — the company constantly looks into ways their technology can be applied for the public good. During the pandemic, for example, Rob says that Cruise provided cars for delivering food from food banks to communities in need. The company, he says, has an overall mission to advance the social good, and aims to be a leader in helping society in various ways. The heart of Cruise’s work is making things safer, more environmentally friendly, and more accessible.
To hear more on these topics and more, listen to the show!