A few decades ago, when it was still a concept, autonomous transportation technology looked like a whacky idea straight out of a movie script. The game-changing concept, which gathered prominence over the years and even overshadowed the electric car revolution to some extent, is a reality now. And, General Motors (GM) is looking to cash in on it as it fast tracks 2019 production goals in its “robo-taxi” initiative.
What makes the self-driving segment different from other industry innovations is the entry of companies other than automobile manufacturers, such as Alphabet’s (GOOG, GOOGL) Waymo, Uber, and Lyft. Interestingly, some of the world’s leading automobile companies are late starters this area, compared to these technology-startup firms.
Autogiant General Motors is moving ahead of its peers in the race for commercial production of driverless cars, though the company’s lackluster financial performance in recent years makes it an unlikely candidate.
If GM kicks off production next year as planned, it will become a close competitor to Waymo which is in the final stages of rolling out ride-hailing service in Phoenix. Despite being the frontrunners, Waymo and Uber are yet to make such official announcements as GM did.
As part of the futuristic initiative, the company plans to retool its Orion Assembly Plant in Michigan for mass production of Cruise AV, the autonomous version of its electric car Chevrolet Bolt EV, spending $100 million.The well-equipped production facility gives GM a comfortable advantage over Waymo when it comes to mass production.
Apetition recently filed by GM, seeking regulators’ green signal to operate about 2,500 “robo-taxis” without brake/accelerator pedals and steering wheel by next year, shows the preparations for production are nearing completion. The local traffic safety administration is yet to issue its verdict on the petition.
GM will have to obtain separate approvals from each of states for the specifications and multiple alterations it has proposed for the driverless car model. Meanwhile, it is not clear how the automaker plans to take forward the project in states where it is mandatory to have a licensed human driver behind the wheel.
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