GM exec: Autonomous cars could be for sale in 10 years

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

A General Motors Co. executive said Friday that fully autonomous vehicles that provide ride-sharing services in limited geographic areas could be on the road within five years.

Mark Reuss, GM’s head of global product development who spoke at the Billington Global Automotive Cybersecurity Summit in Detroit, also said consumers could possibly buy their own self-driving cars in 10 years.

GM Chairwoman and CEO Mary Barra said those cars should first be tested with drivers who could take over if needed. That would help prove the cars work as intended and ease customer concerns.

Barra told reporters that guidelines the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is set to release this summer on autonomous driving also will help companies with development. She believes the NHTSA framework will allow pilot programs in certain communities to move testing forward.

“We believe that they will start with a safety driver in the vehicle, which I think provides that extra layer of attention as we not only prove and validate the technology, but then demonstrate to consumers the safety of technology,” Barra said. “I think the framework will work.”

Barra has previously said GM believes autonomous vehicles should have a brake, accelerator and steering wheel while the systems are proven safe. The carmaker expects the first deployment of self-driving vehicles will be for ride-sharing services. It has a partnership with Lyft Inc.

GM’s semi-automated hands-free, pedals-free highway driving feature – Super Cruise – is on track to debut next year on the Cadillac CT6, Barra said. GM confirmed in January it was being delayed for an unspecified reason. It previously was supposed to be available on the 2017 CT6.

“Super Cruise is a technology that we have invested thousands and thousands of man-hours developing and validating. And it has all the requirements will be met from a federal motor vehicle safety standards perspective,” she said.

Barra said GM’s system is designed to keep the driver engaged, though GM has not released specifics on how it will work. “We feel very confident that when we launch it next year that it will be something that assists the driver,” she said.

Reuss said Super Cruise can work with OnStar to help a driver if he or she has a medical problem: “If we have a problem with Super Cruise, where a driver is having a health problem or is not active with the car, we can actually slow the car down, call OnStar and make sure someone is OK.”

Semi-autonomous features have scrutinized since a fatal crash in May when a Tesla Model S crashed in Florida. The car had Tesla’s Autopilot enabled at the time of the crash, but the system and the driver failed to brake when a semi truck turned left of the car. NHTSA is investigating the crash.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said guidance on best practices for automotive cybersecurity would be coming within weeks or months. He did not provide a specific date. Cybersecurity is a concern for the industry as they develop more connected cars and autonomous vehicles.

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