Polar Bear. Pronghorn. Beluga. Iron Man. No, these aren’t the names of a terrible Avengers reboot. Rather they are the codenames used by General Motors for its fleet of self-driving cars currently being tested in California. Thanks to the Golden State’s requirements that everyone testing driverless cars on its roads submit an annual report, we now know that GM, one of the country’s oldest and most storied car companies, has some pretty big nerds working for it.
GM says it has 20 autonomous Chevy Bolts and five autonomous Nissan Leafs currently operating on public roads in California. The Bolts are all named after animals — Platypus, Cheetah, Lynx, Numbat (hi there little Numbat!) — while the Leafs are named after characters from Marvel Comics — Scarlett (presumedly Scarlett Witch), Quicksilver, Iron Man, Gargoyle (kind of a deep cut, tbqh), and Storm.
“The team at Cruise [GM’s autonomous driving subsidiary] decided early on to name the vehicles as opposed to numbering them,” a spokesperson said in an email. “It makes it easier to identify the Bolt [electric vehicles] in the garage, especially since all of them were the same color (white).”
GM also disclosed that its fleet of colorfully named self-driving cars drove a combined 9,776 miles in California in 2016. The cars disengaged, or dropped out of autonomous mode, 181 times, for a disengagement rate of 18.5 percent.
Like most of its competitors, GM is betting hard on autonomous cars being the future of transportation. But unlike Ford, Google, Uber, and others, GM has been playing its cards close to the vest, refusing to release images or footage of any public tests. It recently posted dash cam footage from a self-driving test in San Francisco, which failed to include any shots of the actual car.
But now we know the real reason for GM’s secrecy! It was just embarrassed by the super dorky names it gave to its cars. But I’m here to say: don’t be afraid, you silly car company. Embrace the dork. Release the numbat.