Cruise, GM seek NHTSA approval for commercial use of self-driving shuttle

Kalea Hall
The Detroit News

General Motors Co. and Cruise LLC, the autonomous vehicle company it has a majority stake in, have filed an application with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to build and commercially deploy a self-driving shuttle. 

Rob Grant, Cruise's senior vice president of government affairs and social impact, called the move "a big step toward our vision of a safer, more sustainable and accessible transportation future" in a blog post on the Cruise website announcing it.

The autonomous Cruise Origin was developed by Cruise LLC, in which General Motors Co. holds a majority stake.

The news comes after Cruise earlier this month said it would start offering members of the public free rides on San Francisco streets in its current fleet of self-driving electric Chevrolet Bolts. Cruise is aiming to launch a commercial taxi service this year, a GM executive said in December. 

Production of the electric Cruise Origin is expected to start later this year at Factory Zero Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Center, GM CEO Mary Barra told investors on the Detroit automaker's fourth-quarter earnings call. Factory Zero is also home to the GMC Hummer EV pickup and SUV, as well as the recently revealed electric Chevrolet Silverado. 

The Origin, developed by Cruise LLC, the autonomous-vehicle unit of GM, was created in partnership with Honda Motor Co. It's a boxy vehicle with no steering wheel or gas pedal that's intended to be used in a ride-sharing fleet.

"NHTSA has made clear in public testimony and regulatory actions, that in order to consider the development of AV standards, they first need more information from real world AV operations," Grant wrote in the blog post. "We believe this petition can help enable that outcome: learnings from the Origin, which is designed to improve overall road safety, can help inform the creation of new, updated regulations and standards."

GM is not Cruise's only prime investor. Cruise recently received an influx of capital from the SoftBank Vision Fund, which already invested $900 million in the company. SoftBank previously agreed to invest an additional $1.35 billion once Cruise was operating fully driverless cars. 

Barra told investors on the fourth-quarter earnings call: "With this incremental investment and the investments from General Motors in companies like Honda, Microsoft and Walmart, Cruise is very well capitalized to scale its business when the Origin production comes online at Factory Zero late this year."