Would you ride in one? If you do, it might grow on you.
“Having ridden in the vehicles, you’ve got to feel it to believe it,” says Lucas Watson ’94, chief marketing officer for Cruise, a self-driving car company. “It’s super scary the first time you do it, and then within about 30 seconds, you go, ‘oh, my gosh, the technology works.’”
Cruise has been testing a driverless version of the Chevy Bolt for four years in San Francisco, where the company is headquartered. The start-up, which has $7.25 billion in backing from General Motors, Honda, Softbank, and T. Rowe Price, unveiled its newest venture in January — the Origin. It’s an electric, self-driving ride-share vehicle with no steering wheel, pedals, or rearview mirror. Cruise plans to produce the Origin at GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant.
The Origin won’t be sold to individuals. Cruise will use the vehicles as a fleet of ride-hailing shuttles — Watson is the company’s ride-hailing general manager. Each vehicle seats six passengers, and, when summoned, will pull up like an Uber or Lyft, sans driver.
Watson moved to Cruise in 2018 after working at Intuit, Google, and, for the first 17 years of his career, Procter & Gamble. He was drawn to Cruise for a number of reasons: its mission to reduce car accidents caused by human error and emissions from gasoline engine, to decrease traffic congestion, and to cut transportation costs for individuals.
Also, Watson says, the chance to build a team and a brand from scratch was compelling. “What I’ve learned in the last 10 years of my career is that the marketing skills I’ve developed are relevant for new industries and new technologies as they try to establish trust with customers,” he says.
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A driverless vehicle is a concept young people are far more likely to accept than their parents are, Watson says, and young people are the Origin’s target market.
When he graduated from Hamilton, bound for a marketing career, the World Wide Web was just coming into widespread use. Three of the four companies he would go on to work for didn’t exist the day he left College Hill. “But because Hamilton helped me develop interpersonal skills, critical thinking, and the core elements of a liberal arts education, I have been able to adapt to a world that shifted radically from what I expected it would be,” Watson says.