By Mike Colias 

General Motors Co.'s driverless-car division, Cruise, has hired a former Delta Air Lines Inc. executive to serve as its operations chief, a sign the company is moving closer to offering services to paying customers.

Gil West, who retired in September after 12 years at Delta, has joined Cruise as chief operating officer, Cruise said Friday. Mr. West was highly regarded at Delta, where he oversaw the company's rise from a reliability laggard to the top ranks.

The hire signals that Cruise, which has been refining and testing its autonomous technology on the streets of San Francisco for years, is readying its operations to roll out a commercial service.

Mr. West's position is a new role at Cruise, which has spent its seven years as a research-and-development company. The executive will oversee all aspects of the company's future autonomous ride-hailing network, from fleet management to customer service, a spokesman said.

Cruise missed its goal of launching a driverless ride-hailing service in 2019 and hasn't set a new target date.

Dan Ammann, Cruise's chief executive, in a statement lauded Mr. West's track record in safety and customer service at Delta, and said he joins the company "as we begin the journey to commercialize our self-driving technology."

The autonomous-vehicle industry has gone through a relatively quiet period as companies grapple with the technical challenges inherent in developing robot cars that exceed human driving performance.

Cruise and others pushed back their timelines to deploy driverless rides to the public by a year or more. There was a relative dearth of investment in the space last year, as investors flocked to electric-vehicle startups.

Still, a recent string of deals and technical milestones in recent months has led some analysts to predict that the driverless-car space will heat up in 2021.

Waymo LLC, a unit of Google parent Alphabet Inc. that is seen as furthest along in refining driverless technology, recently began offering rides without safety engineers to customers in suburban Phoenix. The company also raised at least $3 billion last year.

In June, Inc. acquired autonomous-vehicle developer Zoox. Last month, Uber Technologies Inc. sold its driverless-car unit to Aurora Innovation Inc.

Cruise, which is backed by Japan's SoftBank Group Corp. and Honda Motor Co., last month began testing autonomous cars on public roads in San Francisco without anyone at the wheel. Cruise executives have indicated they intend to build out the company's own ride-hailing network once the technology is ready for widespread deployment.

Mr. West led the team that transformed Delta's operations over the past decade, Delta Chief Executive Ed Bastian said in an employee memo announcing Mr. West's retirement last year. Delta has been the top-rated airline for operational performance in The Wall Street Journal's Middle Seat Scorecard ranking for three consecutive years.

This is GM's second recent high-profile hire from Delta. This fall the company hired Delta's former finance chief, Paul Jacobson, to serve as the auto maker's chief financial officer.

Write to Mike Colias at


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 08, 2021 10:33 ET (15:33 GMT)

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