Zoox CEO Overhauling Amazon’s Robotaxi Unit Ahead Of Las Vegas Commercial Launch

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Zoox, the Silicon Valley-based autonomous driving company purchased by Amazon last year, is undergoing a review and reorganization of operations, practices and plans to get ready to eventually scale up a commercial robotaxi service intended to launch first in Las Vegas, according to CEO Aicha Evans. 

The company, which last year showed off its in-house-designed electric L5 passenger-hauler and in October announced plans to test its robotic system in Seattle in addition to San Francisco and Las Vegas, isn’t making headcount reductions as part of the business review, though some early Zoox employees are leaving, Evans tells Forbes. She didn’t share specific details of the reorganization or a target date for the start of commercial ride services in Las Vegas, though cofounder and CTO Jesse Levinson said the company anticipates it will be first to deploy a “ground up, fully autonomous vehicle” on public streets.  

“The latest phase we’re entering in is, instead of a lot of splash around demo programs and things like that, we’re really hunkered down to mature the company, to match the business and commercial ambitions we have,” Evans said. That means “doing the hard work of preparing for scale, whether it’s processes, whether it’s methodologies, even in how we handle the organization and the people we bring in and the people who stay on. That’s the journey we’re on right now.” 

Zoox is in competition with heavily funded rivals including Alphabet’s Waymo, General Motors-backed Cruise and Argo AI, supported by Ford and Volkswagen, to be among the first autonomous tech companies to prove that on-demand robotic vehicles can succeed and become a highly profitable business. Currently, Waymo operates a small, commercial autonomous ride service in suburban Phoenix with a fleet of modified Chrysler minivans and is expanding the service to the San Francisco Bay Area—though in each case only in very limited, heavily mapped operational zones. Aside from Tesla’s Elon Musk, who set and missed a target for his electric car company to be ready to operate a robotic ride service by the end of 2020, neither Zoox nor its rivals are saying exactly when their robotaxis will be widely available.

The Foster City, California-based company has a small vehicle production operation in Fremont, California, to produce its futuristic L5 vehicles. The factory has also added capacity to equip its test fleet of modified Toyota Highlander SUVs that are running daily in San Francisco, Las Vegas and Seattle. 

Zoox currently has about 1,500 employees and isn’t planning to reduce that number though some “early, prominent Zoox people” are leaving the company, Evans said, without identifying individual team members. 

“We’re celebrating them, we’re thanking them for that first phase,” she said. For some, the company’s initial period was probably more fun than where the company finds itself now. “This phase, it’s a little less sexy, it’s more grindy. But this is what gives you the stripes to actually build a company that ships products and changes society.”

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