Cruise CEO Dan Ammann is leaving the company, its parent company General Motors said in a late afternoon statement.
Kyle Vogt, who co-founded the autonomous vehicle company, and was the company’s first CEO, will take over the role on an interim basis. Vogt has been serving as Cruise’s president and CTO. Wesley Bush, the former chairman and CEO of Northrop Grumman and a GM board member, will join the Cruise board, GM said.
GM and Cruise did not provide additional details about why Ammann was leaving. The departure of the longtime GM executive is unexpected and came as a surprise to Cruise employees who asked not to be identified. The news was shared with Cruise employees Thursday as it was shared with the public, with one person noting it seemed unplanned and chaotic. One anecdote that illustrates the lack of planning around Ammann’s departure was staff waited for more than 10 minutes to hear from GM chairman and CEO Mary Barra who was unable to join a virtual town hall meeting meant to explain the change. Vogt ended up having to put her on speakerphone from his smartphone so she could communicate with Cruise staff.
Ammann was at the center of GM’s initial investment and acquisition of Cruise. He oversaw GM’s relationship with Cruise. And he was the person with whom Vogt had regular contact. Vogt even mentioned his connection to Ammann while onstage at SF Disrupt in September 2018. Ammann also came to the job with a specific skill set. When Ammann first joined GM in 2010 as vice president of finance and treasurer, his first task was to manage GM’s initial public offering. At the time, Ammann’s appointment as Cruise CEO seemed to signal that an IPO could be a goal.
Ammann was tapped to be CEO of Cruise in late 2018. He took over officially in January 2019. At the time, the move seemed to make sense. Cruise had grown from a small startup with 40 employees to more than 1,000 by the time Ammann took over.
And while Ammann continued to push the company to expand, there were missed targets, notably the plan to launch a commercial robotaxi business in 2019. The company has spent the past two years inching toward that commercialization goal, along with the rest of the industry, which has gone through a spate of consolidation.
GM outlined a bullish autonomous vehicle plan at its October investor day and its branded “Under the Hood” event the following month. Those ambitions included comments from Ammann, who laid out the company’s plan to launch a commercial robotaxi and delivery service starting with retrofitted Chevy Bolts and eventually scaling to an army of tens of thousands of purpose-built Origin AVs on the road over the next few years.
Separately, Cruise’s go-to-market VP Lucas Watson left the company last week, according to several sources with direct knowledge. While his departure is apparently unrelated, it does raise questions about the business side of Cruise, aspects of which Ammann and Watson would have been focused on.