Self-Driving Survivors Struggle With ‘Trough of Disillusionment’

There’s a phrase that keeps getting tossed around in the autonomous vehicle business: trough of disillusionment.

Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt said it on General Motors’s recent earnings call, and Aurora Technologies CEO Chris Urmson used a variation of if on Bloomberg Television to describe where the industry is right now. Their comments came after Ford and Volkswagen-backed Argo AI shut down and after a year-long rout in self-driving tech stocks.

What’s happening is a brutal shakeout among companies trying to monetize a new technology. Money poured into startups during bubbly days before and during the pandemic. Many of those investments aren’t panning out. Companies with cash, technology chops and patient ownership are still in the game. Any company missing just one of those three pieces are going away.

The remaining players are still getting funded and are still eyeing a big prize if they can scale up a business before investors lose interest.