The Self-Driving Industry Looks Unwell, Waymo Layoffs Begin

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Alphabet subsidiary Waymo has reportedly leaned into layoffs and everyone is wondering whether this is an offshoot of the 12,000 job cuts being made at Google or indicative that self-driving tech has run itself into a brick wall. While there’s certainly a wealth of evidence that autonomous vehicles have progressed more slowly than the industry would have had us believe a decade earlier, Waymo has arguably made some of the biggest strides in the industry.

That doesn’t mean there haven’t also been high-profile incidents that would leave one doubting the viability of self-driving cars. But the company has one of the most ambitious and successful pilot programs for autonomous vehicles to date.

According to Automotive News, several dozen Waymo employees have recently announced their layoffs over LinkedIn – suggesting that they’re the tip of the iceberg. Lost positions are not isolated to any single job title either. Waymo has reportedly cut staff from marketing teams, engineering departments, fleet maintenance, system integration, and just about every other department imaginable. Though it's hardly like this was a problem exclusive to any singular company.

From AN:

In perhaps signs of an uneven AV business landscape, recruiters and friends pointed the freshly unemployed Waymo veterans to active openings at self-driving tech companies such as Cruise, Gatik, Kodiak Robotics, Motional and Outrider.

Motional itself conducted an undisclosed number of layoffs in November. Waymo's reductions come three months after a key robotaxi competitor, Argo AI, entirely shuttered operations. Argo was a joint venture between Ford Motor Co. and Volkswagen Group.

Despite the layoffs, the company's goals for 2023 remain unaffected, according to the spokesperson. But plans for its Via autonomous trucking unit have been pushed back. Waymo has never publicly outlined a specific time frame for commercially deploying its Class 8 tractor trailers without humans aboard. Nonetheless, the internal timeline has been "slightly" delayed, the spokesperson said.

It’s worth noting that tech companies are hemorrhaging staff across the board right now. Many investors have become skeptical about some of the promises made by these companies and the hectic economic landscape hasn’t helped things. Automakers have also been quietly (and sometimes not-so-quietly) reducing staff for years now, with rolling layoffs (some of which were temporary) really kicking off after restrictive health policies were put into place after 2020.

Waymo has said its passenger-carrying commercial service ( done without human drivers) will continue in Phoenix, Arizona, and remain its central focus as it helps develop better self-driving systems. The company also plans on expanding use for larger vehicles spending the brunt of its time on the highway via collaborative projects it already has with companies like UPS and J.B. Hunt.

We'll keep digging into the issue to see just how many people Waymo has lost and anticipate an update in the coming days. As things currently stand, it sounds like the self-driving arm has taken quite the hit but it's presently wrapped up in the broader Google layoffs.

[Image: Waymo]

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Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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3 of 20 comments
  • Tylanner Tylanner on Jan 27, 2023

    Self-driving technology has never moved beyond "Senior Project" levels of engineering and infrastructure. More of a Pinewood derby competition than space-race.

    • MaintenanceCosts MaintenanceCosts on Jan 27, 2023

      Responsible companies' versions of the tech (i.e., not Tesla or Uber) are actually pretty good in perfect weather and with legible road markings. We're way beyond the science fair. The problems that haven't been solved yet are bad weather and worn-out roads.

  • Brn Brn on Jan 28, 2023

    More likely, with Google having troubles, the money tree isn't as ripe as it once was and cutbacks are needed.

    I hope the overall industry continues to evolve. When I get the the point I can't easily drive, I would still appreciate the independence that autonomous vehicles can bring.

  • Bob65688581 We bought zillions of German cars, despite knowing about WWII slave labor. Refusing to buy something for ideological reasons is foolish.Both the US and the EU have imposed tariffs, so the playing field is level. I'll buy the best price/quality, regardless of nationality.Another interesting question would be "Would you buy one of the many new European moderate-price EVs?" but of course they aren't sold here.Third interesting question: "Why won't Stellantis sell its best products in America?"
  • Freshblather No. Worried there will be malicious executable code built into the cars motherboard that could disable the Chinese cars in the event of hostilities between the west and China.
  • Bd2 Absolutely not - do not want to support a fascist, totalitarian regime.
  • SCE to AUX The original Capri was beautiful. The abomination from the 90s was no Capri, and neither is this.It looks good, but too similar to a Polestar. And what's with the whacked price?
  • Rover Sig Absolutely not. Ever.