© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A Cruise self-driving car, which is owned by General Motors, is seen outside the company’s headquarters in San Francisco, California, U.S., September 26, 2018. REUTERS/Heather Somerville/File Photo
By Greg Bensinger and David Shepardson
(Reuters) -General Motors’ Cruise robotaxi unit dismissed nine key people amid an ongoing safety investigation, according to a memo seen by Reuters on Wednesday, which the company confirmed included Chief Operating Officer Gil West.
The investigation relates to an Oct. 2 incident in which a woman was struck and dragged by a Cruise vehicle in San Francisco.
The shakeup follows weeks of turmoil at the robotaxi unit, which had to pull all its vehicles from testing in the United States to conduct a safety review after the accident. CEO Kyle Vogt and co-founder Dan Kan both resigned in recent weeks and Cruise is preparing for a round of layoffs this month.
“Following an initial analysis of the October 2 incident and Cruise’s response to it, nine individuals departed Cruise,” according to the memo.
“We are committed to full transparency and are focused on rebuilding trust and operating with the highest standards when it comes to safety, integrity, and accountability,” the memo said. “As a result, we believe that new leadership is necessary to achieve these goals.”
The Cruise spokesperson confirmed that among those dismissed was also Chief Legal and Policy Officer Jeff Bleich and Senior Vice President of Government Affairs David Estrada.
Cruise’s troubles are also a setback for an industry dependent on public trust and the cooperation of regulators. The unit had in recent months touted ambitious plans to expand to more cities, offering fully autonomous taxi rides.
The investigation, led by law firm Quinn Emmanuel, is expected to last until January, GM has said.
“The personnel decisions made today are a necessary step for Cruise to move forward as it focuses on accountability, trust and transparency,” GM said in a statement.
In October, the California Department of Motor Vehicles ordered Cruise to remove its driverless cars from state roads, calling them a risk to the public and saying the company had misrepresented the safety of its technology.
Further, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in October opened an investigation into pedestrian risks at Cruise.
Cruise could face $1.5 million in fines and additional sanctions over its failure to disclose details surrounding the accident, a California agency has said.
Mo Elshenawy took over as Cruise’s president last month and told an all-hands meeting earlier in December that the autonomous vehicle unit has hit an “all time low.”