Cruise’s self-driving launch plan doesn’t include small-scale pilots like Waymo’s

Cruise spent some time this week detailing its plans for self-driving deployment, and one of the key features of its approach is how it differs from that of some of its competitors.

“We’re not going to do small-scale pilots,” explained Cruise CEO and cofounder Kyle Vogt during a press briefing prior to a Cruise self-driving vehicle ride along. “We’re [also] not going to launch a ride hailing pilot where you’ve got drivers still in the car.”

While Vogt didn’t say it directly, it’s hard not to read these comments as oblique references to rival Waymo, which began a limited public pilot of its driverless Chrysler Pacifica minivans earlier this year in a Phoenix suburb, and which began said pilot with drivers on board (though it’s expanding that to a truly driverless pilot soon).

Even when Cruise is ready to properly launch, something it says will happen only when it achieves its lofty safety standards, and can provide that reliably “at scale,” according to GM President Dan Ammann, it’s not going to start in small or sparsely populated cities, according to Vogt. This could be another dig at Waymo, which seems likely to use its pilot market in Arizona as its initial commercial market, too.

The goal of the service, ultimately, is to maximize its impact, according to Vogt, and create something that truly affects people’s lives in a big, significant way. To do that, you need to launch first in big cities where ride hailing and electric vehicles available on-demand in significant numbers will make a serious dent not only in reducing traffic fatalities, but also in ecological footprint thanks to reduced emissions.

So given all the conditions Cruise has set itself for deploying its vehicles, when can we expect to see the next major milestones, including fully driverless trials on roads? Vogt said that this can only happen with its 3rd generation vehicles, which include all the necessary redundancy systems to make having a human redundancy a luxury. A few of those cars are already on roads, however, so it might happen sooner than you think. Vogt said that fully driverless testing is “definitely” part of the plan for the 3rd generation test platform in time.

Meanwhile, Cruise has mapped around five square miles of New York so far and plans to deploy its first self-driving test cars in that part of the city early next year. It hopes to have its expanded fleet doing around 1 million miles per month in test driving by early next year, too, across all of its test markets.