GM seeks U.S. govt approval for deploying fully autonomous car in 2019

GM’s interest in fully automated autonomous cars comes from the fact that “several hundred thousands of dollars” can be generated in revenue from the lifetime of one in comparison to an average $30,000 for one of its traditional vehicles.

Executives from General Motors Co disclosed that the automaker is seeking approval from the U.S. government for a fully autonomous car, without an accelerator paddle, brake and steering wheel, which it wants to introduce in the burgeoning commercial ride sharing market in 2019.

GM Cruise AV, a re-branded version of its Chevrolet Bolt EV, has been designed such that even passengers who cannot open doors, or are visually or hearing impaired can operate the vehicle.

The Cruise AV will be one of several of GM’s self-driving vehicles that the carmaker plans on launching in the commercial passenger service market, with the traditional driver’s seat converted into a passenger seat, said GM.

Dan Ammann, GM’s president told the media that the carmaker has sought government approval to deploy the “first production-ready vehicle designed from the start without a steering wheel, pedals or other unnecessary manual controls.”

The carmaker is part of a growing number of companies, which include traditional carmakers, tech companies and startups, who are seeking to develop and deploy robo-taxies over the next three years in Europe, North America and Asia. Most of those companies have one or more partners.

On Tuesday, Ford Motor Co had said it will partner with Postmates Inc, a delivery service, to transport packages, food and people, in its self-driving cars, being developed by its Argo unit.

Although Alphabet’s Waymo is among the top in the leaderboard, for testing prototypes of self-driving vehicles, it has been less explicit in announcing its plans for commercial robo-taxi services.

GM disclosed that it has requested the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to allow 16 alterations to existing vehicle safety rules, such as re-position airbags, which have traditionally been in the steering wheel, to enable the deployment of the Cruise AV.

Incidentally, GM will need to seek approvals from individual U.S. states. For states that stipulate that self-driving cars much have a licensed human driver, the carmaker will have to work with regulators to either change the rule or get a waiver from it.

GM declined to identify the states in which its Cruise AV will be launched, or when it plans on testing the vehicle.

GM aims to have control over its fleet of self-driving cars since it sees it can generate potentially significant revenues from selling related services, ranging from e-commerce to info-entertainments, to consumers riding the vehicle.

During a briefing in San Francisco on November 30, GM’s Ammann told investors the lifetime revenue generation of one of its self-driving cars could eventually be “several hundred thousands of dollars.” The significance of this statement should be seen in the context of GM collecting on average $30,000 for one of its vehicles, from initial sales.

The technology for this prototype from GM’s acquisition of San Francisco-based Cruise Automation which it acquired in March 2016 for a reported $1 billion.

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