GM president Ammann named CEO of GM Cruise, Vogt shifts to CTO

Nora Naughton
The Detroit News
In a continuing corporate shake up, General Motors Co. President Dan Ammann will become CEO of the automaker's autonomous-car unit, GM Cruise LLC.

In yet another move to restructure its business, General Motors Co. President Dan Ammann will become the new head of GM Cruise LLC, replacing Kyle Vogt, the current CEO and co-founder of the autonomous vehicle development operation.

Ammann's new role as GM Cruise CEO is effective Jan. 1, when Vogt will become president and chief technology officer of the autonomous-car unit. The company says the move allows Vogt to focus more intensely on software and technology development as GM prepares to launch a driverless taxi service sometime next year.

The latest in a continuing corporate shake-up comes three days after GM released a bombshell restructuring plan that would idle five factories, affect 6,300 hourly workers and eliminate 8,000 salaried jobs next year in an effort to save $6 billion by 2020. The move was praised on Wall Street, but widely criticized by the United Auto Workers, lawmakers and President Donald Trump.

Ammann has been highly involved with Cruise since GM acquired the San Francisco-based startup for $1 billion in 2016. He has recently intensified his focus on Cruise — relinquishing his product-related responsibilities, including Cadillac — in his role as GM president, a job he's held since 2014.

"As we look out to the nearer-term horizon and we see the prospect for initial commercialization for the technology, it seemed like an important — and in some ways obvious time — for me to increase even further the amount of my time that I can commit to Cruise," Amman told The Detroit News in a joint interview with Vogt.

As Cruise moves toward its launch in 2019, Ammann said it is important to start addressing business operations with more urgency: "We think this tech only matters if it can be deployed ultimately in massive scale. We want to start putting in place the building blocks for that kind of scale in the relatively near term, recognizing that’s going to take time to get to that point, but the time to start that work is now."

GM Cruise has been undergoing a transformation of its own this year, with a $2.25 billion investment from Japanese investment-firm SoftBank Investment Advisers in June followed by an alliance with Honda Motor Co. on a new autonomous vehicle that includes a $2.75 billion investment from the Japanese automaker.

"We've been thinking about expanding our leadership team for quite some time now," Vogt told The News. "We have two years of deep working experience (with Ammann), and he's been instrumental in all the major business milestones for the company, including our investment by Softbank and the investment and partnership with Honda .... This felt more like a gradual evolution."

Still, GM has said it needs to take "proactive steps" to improve overall business performance and strengthen free cash flow to effectively capitalize on electrification, mobility and autonomy ventures. GM is planning to launch a driverless taxi service sometime next year, followed by what it says will be a profitable second-generation electric vehicle platform in 2020.

GM CEO Mary Barra said in the statement that the moves for Ammann and Vogt "further demonstrate our commitment to transforming mobility through the safe deployment of self-driving technology." She called this shift the "next step" toward commercial deployment for Cruise.

GM will eliminate the role of president. Barra will assume Ammann's responsibilities for GM's global regions and GM Financial. GM's corporate development team, which currently reports to Ammann, will report to CFO Dhivya Suryadevara.

Twitter: @noranaughton