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GM Is Getting Serious About Autonomous Cars

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The main General Motors-related headline blasting around the Internet today is that it’s aiming to hire 1,100 people to work at a new research and development center in Silicon Valley to focus on the automaker’s self-driving car efforts. But journalist Mark Harris at IEEE Spectrum has an even more interesting scoop that shows just how serious GM is getting about self-driving cars: It’s gearing up to launch the largest fleet of autonomous cars across three U.S. cities.


A spokesperson for GM declined to comment directly on the report, only saying that the automaker “believes that autonomous vehicles will have tremendous benefits to society in the form of increased safety and accessibility.”

“Currently, GM and Cruise engineers are actively testing more than 50 Chevrolet Bolt EVs with autonomous technology on public roads in Detroit, San Francisco and Scottsdale, AZ,” the spokesperson said. “While we do not discuss potential future product plans, our plan is to launch our autonomous vehicle technology first in an on-demand ridesharing network.”


Harris said he pieced together the story using a number of documents filed with the Federal Communications Commission. And what the paper trail showed is that GM is preparing to deploy 300 self-driving Chevy Bolts in San Francisco, Detroit, and Scottsdale, Arizona, as early as May. From the story:

Right now the largest such fleet belongs to Waymo, which says it has around 80 vehicles on public roads in the United States, with nearly 100 more arriving shortly. GM says it currently has more than 50 Bolts with autonomous technology in the three cities. The remaining 27 manufacturers testing in California together account for just 89 vehicles, although Ford, Uber and start-up nuTonomy at least are also testing elsewhere.

The nuts and bolts of what Harris found is worth your time, but it suggests GM’s not kidding around with investing in the future. Reuters reported in February that GM hopes to have thousands of self-driving electric cars on the road in concert with its $500 million ride-hailing investment Lyft. Sending out 300 cars now, Harris notes, through its autonomous subsidiary Cruise Automation can allow GM to collect crucial data needed to make its AVs work efficiently.

“Running our autonomous vehicle program as a start-up is giving us the speed we need to continue to stay at the forefront of development of these technologies and the market applications,” said GM CEO Mary Barra, in a statement.


Whether or not that was a slight to two Silicon Valley firms currently entangled in a high-profile suit over autonomous vehicle technology, who knows. But GM made it clear this week that it’s looking to take a front-seat in the self-driving car race.