No driver. No pedals. No steering wheel. Just seats and screens and doors that can close themselves. That’s what riders will see when they get into one of General Motors’ Cruise self-driving electric vehicles, scheduled to hit the road in 2019.
On Thursday, the automaker also stressed that the fully autonomous vehicle would emphasize safety — and went into great detail on the hows and whys, including redundant systems intended to replace a human driver.
On a conference call with reporters, GM’s president, Dan Ammann, said the vehicle was the fourth generation of the vehicle to emerge from the carmaker’s Cruise division. GM acquired what was then Cruise Automation, a Silicon Valley startup, in 2016.
“We’re super excited to share this point in the journey,” Ammann said.
The third generation, based on the Chevy Bolt, was showcased in San Francisco for the media late last year, so GM Cruise has been able to reveal four iterations in 18 months, Ammann said.
That’s rapid progress and a testament to a critical early design and engineering decision: to pair Cruise’s technology, optimized for complicated urban environments such as San Francisco, with GM’s ability to develop and manufacture vehicles at a massive scale.
Asked to rank that process in terms of competitive advantage on a scale of one to 10, Ammann said it was a 12.
Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt, also on the call, added that it’s “very binary.”
“Either you can do that, or you don’t have a business,” he said.
GM estimated that it could already roll out its fourth-generation autonomous vehicles in seven US states without creating any legal problems. Federal authorization would have to come from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, something Ammann said GM had asked the government to allow. The carmaker has also published an extensive safety report to facilitate the process.
The carmaker intends to work with states that may have existing legal restrictions on self-driving vehicles to resolve any potential problems by 2019. GM used the example of a requirement to have a steering-wheel airbag. Because the new vehicle doesn’t have a steering wheel, the company wants to be able to use a passenger-side-type airbag to satisfy the rule.