Cruise names first chief safety officer following crash and controversy

Cruise has named its first “chief safety officer” as part of the company’s effort to rehabilitate itself following an incident — and ensuing controversy — last year that left a pedestrian stuck under and then dragged by one of its robotaxis.

Steve Kenner, an autonomous vehicle industry veteran who has held top safety roles at Kodiak, Locomation, Aurora and Uber’s now-defunct self-driving division, is filling the newly-created role. Kenner will report directly to Cruise president and chief administrative officer Craig Glidden. He will “oversee Cruise’s safety management systems and operations” and work “in direct partnership with the Cruise Board of Directors,” the company said in a statement Monday.

Louise Zhang, a VP of safety and systems at Cruise and one of the highest ranking safety-related employees prior to Kenner’s arrival, will remain in her position.

Kenner’s appointment comes just three weeks after the release of a 195-page report by law firm Quinn Emanuel examining the October crash, where a Cruise robotaxi struck and dragged a pedestrian who was previously hit by a human-driven car, as well as the company’s response. That report ultimately determined that Cruise’s leadership had a “myopic” focus on the media’s response to the crash, and that it left out important facts when discussing the event with the public and with regulators.

The crash, and Cruise’s handling of it, are now the subject of many government investigations. The Department of Justice, Securities and Exchange Commission, California Department of Motor Vehicles, California Public Utilities Commission and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are all probing the company’s actions.

Kenner will start his new role at the company at a time when the entire robotaxi fleet is grounded. Cruise recently slashed its workforce by 24% and pushed out a number of high-level employees. Cruise co-founder and Kyle Vogt and co-founder Dan Kan resigned last year.

General Motors, which owns Cruise, has said it will scale back investment in the autonomous vehicle company by $1 billion this year. The automaker installed Glidden as chief administrative officer in November as it started sorting through why the company handled the October crash so poorly.

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