GM’s self-driving fleet car makes public debut

Nora Naughton
The Detroit News

Detroit — The self-driving Cruise AV — a car without a steering wheel or brake pedal — took its first public bow Wednesday at General Motors Co.’s global headquarters

The futuristic car built on the Chevrolet Bolt EV platform will sit atop a pedestal in GM World on the main floor of the Renaissance Center until at least Friday.

The autonomous car on public display this week ahead of the Detroit auto show is the one that GM hopes to mass-produce for a driverless taxi fleet in a yet-to-be-named city that would launch sometime next year. The company last week filed a request with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to deploy the car, which doesn’t have human-centric means of control for steering, accelerating or braking.

Aside from the lack of controls, the interior isn’t much different than a Bolt EV. All of the seats face forward and the infotainment center is in the same spot in the middle of the dashboard.

Using the existing platform is the easiest way forward at this point, as the automaker tries to meet federal safety standards and quickly mass-produce them, said GM spokeswoman Stephanie Rice.

If NHTSA grants GM’s request, the automaker could build up to 2,500 per year, but GM said it is not committing to production volumes at this time. A GM spokesman said Wednesday it’s likely they will be built at the Orion Assembly plant, where the test Cruise AVs are built, but the automaker is not committing to anything yet.

It’s likely that GM will launch its driverless ride-hailing service in a city where it’s already conducting tests and gathering data, as these cars will only operate in geo-fenced areas where they know every inch of the road. GM currently tests around the Tech Center in Warren, in downtown San Francisco and in Scottsdale. Cruise Automation, the self-driving startup GM acquired in 2016 to speed up development of autonomous technology, also plans to begin testing in New York City this year. When the cars do deploy, they would operate as a fleet and share data, according to GM’s self-driving safety report.

GM still isn’t sharing details about what the experience inside the car would be like — if the infotainment system would be the same as in the Bolt EV, for example, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. But the self-driving safety report breaks out a few bells and whistles — features like doors that close themselves if passengers forget, and tablets inside the car that show trip progress on a map.