GM Cruise improves self-drive miles between human intervention

Nora Naughton
The Detroit News
Testing of GM Cruise self-driving vehicles required human drivers to take over less frequently in 2018.

GM Cruise LLC increased its autonomous miles driven in California by more than 300,000 miles in 2018, and improved its miles driven between human interventions by nearly 4,000 miles.

The self-driving vehicle development arm of General Motors Co. said in a report filed at the end of last year and released this week that its test vehicles drove 447,621 autonomous miles last year.

The system required human intervention 86 times, with about 5,200 miles between disengagement, GM said in its filing with the California Department of Motor Vehicles. That's a significant improvement from 2017, when GM Cruise reported only 1,230 miles between disengagements.

GM Cruise's disengagement rate in California was second to rival Waymo, Alphabet Inc.'s autonomous vehicle development unit. Waymo said Wednesday its autonomous Chrylser Pacifica minivans drove about 11,000 miles between human interventions.

GM Cruise's then-CEO Kyle Vogt said at an investor event in November 2017 that the autonomous vehicle development unit's fleet of self-driving Chevrolet Bolt EVs, which the company has rebranded as Cruise AV, would accumulate about a million miles per month by early 2018. 

"That target was based on expanding our resources equally across all our testing locations," said GM Cruise spokesman Milin Mehta. “But, as you can see from our rate of improvement in the California disengagement report, expanding resources in complex urban environments has been more important to developing safe self-driving vehicles than running up the miles in a simple suburban setting to hit an arbitrary mileage target.”

GM Cruise also tests in Scottsdale, Arizona, but did not expand that team in 2018 as much as the company initially expected, as it saw more value in the San Francisco testing. The self-driving car unit also does much of its winter-road testing around the Warren Technical Center.

As GM Cruise moves toward its goal of launching a driverless taxi service this year — which leaders have repeatedly said would be "gated by safety" — the company has focused its expansion efforts on San Francisco, where the taxi service is likely to launch. GM Cruise grew its team from 450 in 2017 to about 1,100, with most of the hiring concentrated in Silicon Valley.

GM filed a petition with NHTSA early last year to deploy its self-driving car without a steering-wheel, pedals or mirrors in time to launch its driverless taxi service. GM CEO Mary Barra told investors this month that there was still "no word on the petition," but that GM Cruise is "very capable of launching" the service with the current-generation Cruise AV.

"We're going to make sure we meet all the appropriate safety thresholds that we've defined for ourselves as well as the regulator requirements," Barra said. "This is going to be a really important and critical year, and we're going to continue to update you as we progress. But I would say everything is moving forward in a very positive fashion."

Twitter: @NoraNaughton