GM’s Ammann supportive of self-driving car legislation

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

General Motors Co. President Dan Ammann said the carmaker is supportive of self-driving car legislation introduced in Michigan last week that could help the automaker on its journey to be among the first deploying autonomous vehicle technology.

“We just think it’s important that Michigan be right at the front of the line on this activity. We think the bills that are being proposed can certainly help with that, which is why we’re supportive of them,” Ammann said Wednesday in a roundtable with reporters at the Mackinac Policy Conference on Mackinac Island.

“We’d like to see them pass and nothing would make us more pleased as a company to have the state alongside us as we’re at the forefront of this change.”

Last week, a package of bills was introduced in the state Senate that would aim to make Michigan the nation’s leader in autonomous vehicle testing and allow manufacturers to produce and sell self-driving cars here, eliminate the need for a driver to be behind the wheel while the vehicle is operating and allow manufacturers to operate on-demand autonomous vehicle networks. A spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Snyder last week said that the governor supported the legislation.

Ammann said GM has the ride-sharing, car-sharing, connectivity, autonomous driving and alternative-propulsion pieces in place now for autonomous vehicle development.

“We are the only company that has assembled all of the necessary ingredients to win,” he said during an address at the policy conference.

Ammann said that while GM has set itself up to be able to lead in the autonomous vehicle space, Michigan must step up to support the auto industry as mobility changes.

“Michigan has a great opportunity to lead and an opportunity that it must seize,” he said. “We encourage the state to take the necessary steps to create an environment that fosters the growth of this new transportation model.”

In January, GM announced it was investing $500 million for a 9 percent stake in ride-hailing company Lyft Inc. The companies are working to test a fleet of self-driving Chevrolet Bolt EVs and Ammann now has a seat on Lyft’s board of directors. It also announced Maven, its car-sharing business with service now announced in five U.S. cities.

Late last month, GM closed on its acquisition of San Francisco start-up Cruise Automation. While GM has not said how much it bought the company for, reports have pegged it at about $1 billion. About 40 people are working for the software company in San Francisco and Ammann said they are “rapidly growing the team out there.” Self-driving Bolt EVs also began testing on public roadways in San Francisco late last month.

GM said it sees business opportunity with autonomous vehicles and ride-sharing platforms for customers who today can’t drive and for customers who don’t want to own a car because of the expense or inconvenience with parking and driving in busy urban cities.

The Detroit automaker said 20 million people today use shared mobility services such as car sharing or ride sharing; a figure it says is projected to more than triple by 2020.

Ammann said one of the bills introduced in the state Senate would allow for an on-demand network of ride-sharing service which would let the public experience a self-driving vehicle in a safe and controlled manner.

“This bill could be a game-changer for Michigan,” he said.

Ammann on Wednesday would not give a timeline as to when he expects self-driving cars could be on the road. The self-driving Bolt EV fleet could pick up passengers for testing within a couple of years, The Detroit News previously reported.

GM’s Mike Ableson, vice president of strategy and global portfolio planning, told Congress in March that it sees the “next logical step toward public availability of autonomous vehicles will be controlled ride-sharing projects, such as what we are planning with Lyft.” He also said the company planned to introduce autonomous technology with Lyft drivers within “the next couple of years.”

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