GM’s ‘talking’ Cadillac first of its kind to hit road

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

General Motors Co.’s first cars with vehicle-to-vehicle communications are rolling off the assembly line in Lansing, capable of sharing information with other cars to alert drivers of potential hazards in the roadway ahead.

The mid-2017 CTS sedans are the first on U.S. roads to offer vehicle-to-vehicle technology — known in the industry as V2V — through dedicated short-range communication, the automaker said Thursday. But for now, they can only “talk” to other similarly equipped CTS vehicles. They can’t talk to cars made by Mercedes-Benz that use another method for vehicle-to-vehicle communication. And they don’t talk to traffic sensors and other infrastructure being installed by the state of Michigan on the limited network of “smart” expressways around Metro Detroit.

“It’s bold that GM decided to be first in outfitting these Cadillacs with [dedicated short-range communication] devices, but the value of having such systems really only comes when they are plentiful,” Mike Ramsey, research director for Gartner Inc., said in an email. “GM has thrown a party, but it is the only one there. For this to be truly valuable, governments in the U.S. and elsewhere must mandate it across the fleet.”

The development marks an incremental step in the evolution toward fully self-driving cars. Some analysts believe it could be years before most drivers truly benefit from connected vehicles.

Mercedes-Benz offers V2V on its 2017 E-Class in the U.S. But unlike GM’s system, the German automaker’s Car-to-X Communication — which provides driving condition alerts and can send alerts to other cars — only works where cellular and GPS signals are available. And it, for now, only works with other E-Class sedans that have the feature.

Cadillac said that mid-2017 CTS models in the U.S. and Canada will come standard with V2V capability. The mid-size sedan is built at GM’s Lansing Grand River Assembly Plant. Starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price on a CTS is about $46,000.

“V2V essentially enables the car to sense around corners,” Richard Brekus, Cadillac global director of product strategy, said in a statement. “Connecting vehicles through V2V holds tremendous potential, as this technology enables the car to acquire and analyze information outside the bounds of the driver’s field of vision. As an early mover, we look forward to seeing its benefit multiply as more V2V-equipped vehicles hit the road.”

When such cars become more common, they will be able help give drivers additional time to react to potential issues while driving. Alerts for CTS drivers are given when similarly equipped vehicles ahead brake hard, experience slippery roadways or if disabled vehicles ahead have their hazard lights activated. Drivers will be able to customize alerts to be shown in the CTS instrument cluster or in an available heads-up display. While the system will alert drivers to hazards, it will not automatically brake or steer the car, GM spokesman Chris Bonelli said.

GM has said such a system could one day help warn drivers ahead of freeway pileups. It has said V2V could have warned drivers of an initial collision on Interstate 94 in western Michigan in January 2015 that eventually involved some 190 cars and trucks.

Cadillac’s V2V uses a dedicated short-range communication and GPS. It can process 1,000 messages per second from vehicles that are nearly 1,000 feet away. The system allows cars to know about traffic conditions and another vehicle’s location, speed and direction up to about one-fifth of a mile away. The cars create their own wireless network to transfer information that can happen without sight lines, good weather or cellular coverage. It operates on the 5.9-GHz spectrum set aside by the Federal Communications Commission.

Automakers were expecting a V2V mandate for U.S. vehicles to have been finalized by mid-2016, Sam Abuelsamid, senior analyst with Navigant Research, said in an email. He said it’s unclear what President Donald Trump’s administration will do. Navigant predicts global sales of more than 70 million vehicles a year by 2025 that are V2V-capable.

The CTS sedan is not equipped with vehicle-to-infrastructure technology, or V2I, which allows a vehicle to talk to sensors and other infrastructure in the roadway, GM’s Bonelli said. The state of Michigan has been installing technology on some area freeways to enable connected cars to communicate with the roads.

GM would not say if it plans to roll out V2V on other Cadillacs or GM vehicles, but Abuelsamid believes Cadillac will continue to add it as its fleet is updated. But the automaker hopes the deployment will help introduce it to drivers, Bonelli said. GM won’t collect data from the cars, he said.

Even if the CTS communications system won’t be of much use to consumers at first, Abuelsamid believes it’s a worthwhile endeavor: “Since GM is pushing so hard to get its autonomous (Chevrolet) Bolts deployed, the CTS is probably a good real-world test case for them.”

Sales of the CTS have been sluggish in the U.S. as consumers increasingly shift to SUVs and crossovers. In January and February, 1,604 were sold; that’s down 35.2 percent compared to the same period in 2016. Cadillac sold 15,911 CTS sedans in the U.S. last year, off 18.3 percent from 2015.

Later this year, Cadillac will debut Super Cruise — a driver-assist feature allowing drivers to take hands off steering wheels and feet off pedals in highway driving — on another car, the full-size CT6. Super Cruise uses sensors and cameras to guide the way.

Cadillac President Johan de Nysschen said in a January interview said that Super Cruise and V2V will boost Cadillac’s reputation as a progressive company.

“Do they generate thousands of incremental sales in any year? Of course not,” he said. “But it begins to provide a basis for credible communication about the resurgence that’s taking place in Cadillac in terms of product substance, craftsmanship, quality, technology, the customer experience at the retail level.”

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Staff Writer Ian Thibodeau contributed.