General Motors is going to sell fully autonomous vehicles to regular people by the middle of the decade, the company’s CEO Mary Barra declared during her speech at the 2022 Consumer Electronics Show. It was a bold claim that is sure to cause waves in the auto industry, especially as it continues to grapple with its own over-inflated expectations about the future of driverless cars.
Barra didn’t offer further details about the kind of vehicle it will sell, which markets it will target, how it will address liability in the event of a crash, and most importantly, whether owners will be able to sleep in their autonomous vehicles.
To date, there are no self-driving cars for sale to consumers as personally owned vehicles. Autonomous vehicles, which are outfitted with multiple sensors and high-powered computer systems, are very expensive to develop.
Most AV companies are choosing to deploy their vehicles as part of fleets of autonomous taxis as a way to defray the enormous hardware and software costs associated with highly automated driving. Other companies, like Tesla, claim their vehicles are “self-driving,” but in reality, they are only equipped with Level 2 advanced driver assist systems.
Many experts assume that autonomous vehicles will eventually be sold to consumers but at a much later date, when the manufacturing costs have declined and the margins are more favorable to a company’s bottom line.
But GM claims that date is coming sooner than anticipated. Barra said customers may be able to purchase their own autonomous vehicle “as soon as the middle of the decade,” which implies 2025 at the earliest. More importantly, GM is giving itself a deadline, which may or may not work out to their advantage.
Previously, GM-backed Cruise missed its deadline to launch a full-scale robotaxi service in San Francisco by the end of 2019. The company has said it expects to launch the service in 2022.
Last month, Barra forced out Cruise CEO Dan Ammann over disagreements on the direction of the company. According to Bloomberg, Barra was pushing to use Cruise’s technology to power luxury self-driving Cadillacs that could be sold to customers. Ammann was reportedly open to the idea but wanted to prioritize Cruise’s robotaxi service.
Later this year, GM is planning to start production of the Cruise Origin, a purpose-built autonomous shuttle without traditional controls like a steering wheel and pedals. GM had previously planned to produce a version of its electric Chevy Bolt without steering wheels and pedals but has since put that plan on hold while it prioritizes the Origin.