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How one of Mary Barra’s most promising investments went from GM’s ‘crown jewel’ to a liability

Emily Elconin/Bloomberg—Getty Images

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Reese's Book Club dominates the literary landscape, five states will have abortion rights on their November ballots, and GM tries to salvage its $10 billion investment in self-driving business Cruise after a scary safety incident. Have a productive Monday!

- Safety first. As General Motors poured $10 billion into autonomous driving startup Cruise, GM CEO Mary Barra hoped that the investment would help the automaker pull ahead in the EV race. GM has manufactured electric vehicles since the 1990s, but has been outshone by Tesla—and GM's strategy is still go to 100% electric by 2035. Barra believed in the technology so much she posted a video on her LinkedIn two years ago in which she was thrilled by her first ride in a Cruise car. "I can't stop smiling," she said at the time.

But a serious safety incident last year has put that all in jeopardy. In October 2023, a self-driving robotaxi in San Francisco hit a woman, ran over her, and dragged her for 20 feet. The car incorrectly labeled the incident a "side collision" and tried to pull over, not registering it was dragging a person along with it.

The non-fatal incident set off a wave of re-evaluation and restructuring at GM and Cruise, my colleague Jessica Mathews reports in a new Fortune investigation. For GM, the incident has taken one of Barra's most promising investments (GM owns 80% of Cruise) from a "crown jewel" to a "liability," Jessica writes.

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The upheaval arrived as Barra was simultaneously managing last year's UAW strike against the Big Three automakers. GM replaced most of Cruise's management team and eventually settled with the woman who was hit for somewhere between $8 million and $12 million. And as Jessica writes, the incident showed the power of a Fortune 500 giant like GM to salvage an upstart self-driving business, compared to a typical startup trying to save itself after a disaster. When an analyst said that the incident was "un-GM-like," Barra told him, "I agree with you."

Read Jessica's full investigation here.

Emma Hinchliffe
emma.hinchliffe@fortune.com

The Broadsheet is Fortune's newsletter for and about the world's most powerful women. Today's edition was curated by Joseph Abrams. Subscribe here.

This story was originally featured on Fortune.com