You won’t find a steering wheel, throttle or foot brake in GM and Ford’s self-driving car visions. Will cars without human control soon hit the streets?
Flying? brake pedal? Sun visor for the driver? Other controls useful only for human drivers? You won’t find them in the GM Cruise Origin. The Cruise Origin has subway-like doors – and thus clearly indicates for which target group it was designed: carpooling services. Four to six people can fit in the futuristic shuttle – and it may soon be.
Ford and GM want special permits
Car General Motors and its US competitor Ford have filed two separate applications with the US Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) for a special permit to use a limited number of self-driving automobiles.
The two automakers want to use up to 2,500 vehicles a year for ride-sharing and delivery services. This is exactly the legal limit for fully autonomous vehicles in the United States.
The driver as an “unacceptable safety risk”
Both proposals impressively reflect the new role of humans in the new world of self-driving cars. For example, Ford explained in its submission to NHTSA: Active Driving Controls would pose an “unacceptable safety risk.”
From this point of view, the human is no longer the “fallback option” that comes to the rescue when technology (again) does something stupid. On the contrary: people themselves become a security risk.
No sale of self-driving cars to individuals
Consumers who can live with such a vision and hope to soon be able to buy such a vehicle themselves, for example to take them to work relaxed with a read or a nap, or to take their children for horse riding or vacation swimming, but are cheated. Neither automaker is seeking permission to sell self-driving vehicles to individuals, according to the applications.
In fact, no manufacturer in the world has yet announced a fixed date from which it intends to start selling highly automated cars. Because it will only be worth it if autonomous driving is allowed in large parts of the world.
In addition, acquisition costs are likely to be enormous, as sensors and computers make self-driving cars significantly more expensive. Application areas targeted by GM and Ford, such as carpooling, carpooling and package delivery, make more sense since costs can be recovered more quickly. It is estimated that driverless taxis could become widespread between 2030 and 2040.
That’s how important Cruise is to GM
As great as the uncertainties are, the hopes that the two automobile groups place in their vision of the autonomous car are just as great. For General Motors (GM), whose cruise division has recently focused on building its robotaxi business and generating revenue, the Cruise Origin is the next logical step.
Last year, GM boss Mary Barra announced an ambitious plan under which the Detroit-based traditional automaker expects to double sales to $280 billion by 2030. Among the planned sales increases, Cruise would represent alone about 50 billion dollars.
GM plans to invest $35 billion in the development of battery-powered electric and self-driving cars over the next four years. The global self-driving market is estimated to more than double between 2021 and 2025 to over $50 billion.
IPO cruise off the table
This step also shows how important the self-driving division has become for the traditional Detroit-based car company, which even had to file for bankruptcy during the financial crisis of 2009: in the spring of 2022, GM acquired Japanese technology group Softbank’s Cruise stake for $2.1 billion. After the transaction closes, GM will own approximately 80% of Cruise.
At the same time, GM has destroyed the hopes of investors and analysts that the self-driving specialist would have more autonomy. A possible Cruise IPO seems definitely ruled out.
German law regulates autonomous driving up to “level 4”
In Germany, driverless vehicles like the GM Cruise could only be used locally. This is regulated in the “Autonomous Driving Act”. As a result, so-called Level 4 vehicles are only permitted on fixed routes and previously approved operating areas. This includes, for example, shuttle traffic and the transport of people and goods on the first or last mile, but also fully automatic parking.
In addition, a person must be constantly in charge of technical supervision, such as a robotaxi employee in a monitoring room. In the case of self-driving cars, people will not be completely superfluous, at least from a specific German legal point of view.