- Cruise has hired 3 former airline execs to lead its commercial launch.
- The self-driving unit wants to tap airline know-how in safety, regulations, and customer experience.
- A former Delta exec is Cruise’s first chief operating officer.
Cruise, the self-driving vehicle arm of General Motors, is poaching executives from the airline business to lead the commercial launches of its ride-hail services in the coming years.
After nearly a decade of R&D for the Cruise AV and Cruise Origin vehicles, the San Francisco-based company is focusing on launching and scaling driverless ride services. To achieve this, in early 2021 Cruise enlisted the help of retired Delta COO Gil West.
The idea, a Cruise spokesperson said, was to tap into the airline industry’s know-how in managing high levels of complexity, from safety and regulations to efficient fleet management and customer experience.
West was hired to be Cruise’s first chief operating officer, and is tasked with leading the company’s commercial launch of an autonomous ride-hailing service in San Francisco and beyond. He has since recruited two more airline executives to the Cruise C-Suite.
“Both at the airlines as well as at Cruise, you’re dealing with highly engineered products that are very technical in nature,” West told Insider. “Managing those kinds of products in terms of the technology and the reliability of the data availability – and then operationally, there’s strong overlap.”
Before joining Cruise, West was a career airline executive who retired from Delta in September 2020. West came to Delta shortly before the airline’s 2008 merger with Northwest, and was named COO in 2014.
He had every intention of living out his retirement in Naples, Florida, until he met with the folks from Cruise. West said he saw a number of overlaps between the airline and self-driving car businesses, and jumped at the opportunity to start something new.
Cruise was founded in 2013 by Kyle Vogt and Dan Kan and acquired by GM in 2016 for an undisclosed amount, though the deal has been valued above $1 billion. Honda also later invested nearly $3 billion to develop a driverless car with Cruise, now known as the Cruise Origin.
Vogt and GM executives Mary Barra and Mark Reuss took some of the first fully driverless rides in a Cruise vehicle earlier this year.
West pointed to the “durability” of products in the airline industry, with planes lasting for up to 30 years in a fleet with heavy usage. The same will apply with Cruise’s vehicles, which West hopes will rack up some 1 million miles in their lifetimes.
“The life cycle of the asset is extremely important to the business model in both situations,” West said. “Having the skills and the infrastructure to extend that life cycle is key to our model.”
Shortly after joining Cruise, West recruited Southwest’s Anthony Gregory to run Cruise’s market development operations and former Virgin Atlantic COO Phil Maher to Cruise’s central operations department, where his team focuses on launching the self-driving service.
With this team, West said he has brought to Cruise expertise in fleet building and deployment, launching the modified Chevy Bolts the company has been using for the last several years in San Francisco while building up the fleet of Cruise Origins, the next generation of autonomous shuttle for the company.
His team is also laying the groundwork for future customer experiences and relationships, something Cruise didn’t have much focus on in its previous R&D phases.
“We’re building that foundation, and now we’re also starting to operate and commercialize and scale,” West said.