As Batman and Blade Runner have shown us, robocars aren’t a new concept. But seeing one on the big screen is a far cry from observing one hum quietly down the street. In January 2022, the latter became a daily occurrence for residents of San Francisco when Cruise, one of the world’s first robotaxi companies, welcomed passengers into its vehicles for free test rides. In June, the company received an official permit to operate as a commercial taxi service in the Golden City.
The biggest question is obvious: do they work? The second question is a function of the first: are potential riders going to buy in? While San Franciscans living a stone’s throw from Silicon Valley may be eager to hop in these new rides, all signs indicate that the general population will be less than enthused. According to AAA’s annual report, 86% of people are either afraid of or unsure about riding in an autonomous vehicle. A mere 14% trust them enough to climb aboard. In short: wooing passengers will be an uphill battle for Cruise.
I’m a skeptic by nature. I hesitate when downloading new iPhone apps—forget relinquishing the steering wheel to a borderline-sentient robot named Poppy or Tostada. To see if Cruise could sway me toward Team AV, I checked out the company’s website.
Addressing customer safety concerns
Throughout its web copy, Cruise proactively addresses safety concerns, dedicating an entire page to reassuring uncertain readers. “New standards in safety,” one section reads. “40+ sensors give Cruise AVs a 360° view to see far and wide, and can map the location of surrounding objects within centimeters.” As the old adage goes, we fear what we don’t understand. By demystifying how Cruise robocars work in a manner that anyone can follow, the technology page makes me slightly less wary of the self-driving concept.
To further emphasize the safety of their robocars, Cruise compares them to ordinary, human-operated vehicles. Cruise’s cars “can see far more than the human eye” and “detect, predict, and respond to the movement of people, animals, and objects faster than any human brain,” the company claims. They “never get distracted, can’t drive under the influence, and never get tired.”
The company’s arguments are simple yet persuasive. It’s not hard to believe a robot can respond to stimuli faster than people and are immune to most things that impede our driving ability. Again, the writer opts for clear, intelligible copy that isn’t bogged down by jargon, making complicated subject matter digestible for the masses.
Embracing simplicity in a complicated industry
Cruise’s copy shines in its simplicity. The website—sprinkled with pithy headers like “a better way to get around” and “a new kind of ride”—conveys a clear and forward-thinking message: Cruise’s robocars will make everyone’s life easier.
In addition to making the self-driving service easy to understand, Cruise’s copy mirrors one of its key value propositions. Consider the following lines from the Services page: “Crank up the volume. Have a snooze. Or just enjoy the view. Cruise takes care of the rest.” In our fast-paced world, Cruise empowers its riders to reclaim their commutes and make them restful, enjoyable experiences. Short sentences and colloquialisms effectively convey this sense of ease.
Rather than letting customers dwell on what they’ll lose with Cruise—the driver’s seat—the website points out what they’ll gain: more time and less stress. “There’s no driver or uncertain interactions. It’s simple, safe, and reliable, so you can just relax and be yourself.” One subheader even tells us to “take control,” suggesting customers are getting more by giving up driving.
Underscoring social and environmental impact
On the Community page, I found one more facet of Cruise’s marketing and copy strategy: the company’s social and environmental impact. Cruise states it’s “dedicated to every neighborhood”: after all, its programs serve the residents of its cars’ cities, and zero-emission electric vehicles mitigate the effects of growing vehicle traffic. With taglines like “cruise for good” and “cruise in the community,” the company reminds customers that a portion of their money will go back to their neighbors, friends, and family.
Cruise knows it could be criticized for isolating communities by encouraging them to use atomized robocars over shared public transit. That’s precisely why the brand has shrewdly baked social impact into its messaging. Its community and environmental initiatives align with the themes of transformation and innovation woven throughout its copy and image. “Our vehicles, and our people, are committed to improving life for all,” the site reads. Cruise’s robocars will transform transportation, and the company’s initiatives will enhance the neighborhoods in which AVs are available.
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Cruising into a new era of transportation
As I read through Cruise’s website, I found its arguments compelling. Technological change is scary, but by employing a brand voice that’s simple, accessible, and humanized, Cruise is imprinting on potential customers that AVs aren’t fearsome machines.
With a commitment to community and a service model that allows people to spend more time together and less time driving, Cruise is investing in a future where technology is built to serve the greater good. As we wait to see if the company and its cars can deliver on these promises, that’s a concept this skeptic can get behind.
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