GM: Ammann out at Cruise

Kalea Hall
The Detroit News

Dan Ammann, CEO of General Motors Co.'s autonomous vehicle company Cruise LLC, is leaving the company, the automaker confirmed Thursday after financial markets closed.

The abrupt departure of an executive thought by some to be a leading candidate to replace CEO Mary Barra someday comes as the automaker is pivoting hard to electrification and pushing to field autonomous vehicles in a bid for still-unclaimed market share in the EV space. 

Dan Ammann

GM didn't specify why Ammann, the former president of GM, is leaving the AV company he's led since 2019 — or where he might be going. Kyle Vogt, Cruise president and chief technical officer, will serve as interim CEO.

Backstory:How Cruise boss Ammann, GM failed to bridge widening divide

The news of Ammann's departure comes after a GM executive recently said Cruise is targeting next year to commercially deploy a self-driving taxi service, a clear sign that Cruise's vision is moving closer to being realized.

It also comes after Wednesday's announcement that Pam Fletcher, GM's vice president of innovation, is leaving GM to become chief sustainability officer for Delta Air Lines Inc. next year. In 2020, GM CFO Dhivya Suryadevara left the automaker to become CFO of San Francisco-based Stripe.

"This is a gut punch as Dan was a key part of the Cruise growth story," Dan Ives, senior analyst at Wedbush Securities, said in a statement. "Cruise has a deep bench but this departure is a surprise to the Street and the timing is not ideal heading into a key 2022 EV year for GM."

GM's shares slumped nearly 3% in after-hours trading Thursday. In a sign the automaker wants closer alignment between the parent and its California-based AV unit, GM said director Wesley Bush, the former CEO of Northrop Grumman, would join the Cruise board.

General Motors Co. director Wesley Bush, former CEO of Northrup Grumman, will join the board of Cruise LLC, GM's autonomous-vehicle unit.

The Detroit automaker acquired the self-driving Cruise start-up in 2016. In announcing Amman's sudden departure, GM said it would "accelerate the strategy the company detailed in its recent Investor Day, in which Cruise will play an integral role in building GM’s autonomous vehicle (AV) platform as GM aggressively pursues addressable AV markets beyond rideshare and delivery."

At that October Investor Day event, GM projected Cruise could deliver annual revenue of $50 billion by decade's end, a potentially meaningful contribution to the Detroit automaker's EV strategy and its widely touted growth story. 

Sam Abuelsamid, principal research analyst leading Guidehouse Insights, expressed surprise at the timing of Ammann's departure given how close Cruise is to commercial deployment after previously delaying a 2019 launch of the self-driving service.

"They seem to have been progressing and putting together partnerships that they need and moving towards developing a viable business around automated driving both with robotaxis but also doing stuff on the delivery side, which I think is going to be an important component of building a functional business," he said.

"I don't think any of these companies are going to be able to succeed with just one or the other. I think they are going to need both."

Amman, a native of New Zealand, joined GM as its treasurer in 2010 following the automaker's bankruptcy. Prior to that, he was at investment bank Morgan Stanley. Ammann became GM’s chief financial officer in 2011. He was GM’s president from 2015 to 2019. His responsibilities included overseeing the acquisition of Cruise in 2016, and he finally moved over to lead the autonomous vehicle division in 2019.

Staff writer Breana Noble contributed.

Twitter: @bykaleahall