GM aims for autonomous car without steering wheel by 2019

12 Jan 2018

Still from ‘Meet the Cruise AV Self-Driving Car’. Image: YouTube/General Motors

General Motors is doubling down on autonomous cars by aiming to mass-produce cars without human controls as early as 2019.

If we are to consider a car truly autonomous, it would surely be at the point where human controls are completely removed such as a steering wheel and pedals.

Now, in a bold statement to its competitors, General Motors has announced its intention to release such a car called the Cruise AV for the ride-hailing market that will be mass-produced as early as 2019.

According to The Verge, the car will be the fourth generation of its autonomous electric Chevy Bolts that are already undergoing testing on a number of American roads as it aims to beat the likes of Ford, Waymo and Tesla to the punch.

Announced ahead of the Detroit Motor Show, the massively influential auto trade event, the date of 2019 would give it a two-year head start over Ford that announced it would release a vehicle without the familiar physical controls by 2021.

A concept video released by General Motors shows a car very similar to what we see now, only that the driver’s seat now becomes another passenger seat with no steering wheel or pedals.

The centre console would contain a screen showing the route the car is taking with the addition of two other screens in the headrests of the two seats in the front.

The regulatory speed bump

This familiar-but-different design is intentional as given the fact it is a car that would appear to be ‘out of control’ of its human passengers, a similar design to existing cars would help ease any initial anxiety, at least in theory.

Speaking of the Cruise AV, General Motors’ president Dan Ammann said: “It’s a pretty exciting moment in the history of the path to wide scale [autonomous vehicle] deployment and having the first production car with no driver controls, and it’s an interesting thing to share with everybody.”

Of course, getting this car on the road requires another level of regulation and testing, but General Motors has already submitted a petition to the US’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as it will require a workaround of federal safety standards.

The company however has said it is not looking for an exemption, but to meet it in “a different kind of way”, as the fact that the car cannot have an airbag because it has no steering wheel causes some regulatory problems.

“What we can do is put the equivalent of the passenger side airbag on that side as well,” said Ammann. “So it’s to meet the standards but meet them in a way that’s different than what’s exactly prescribed, and that’s what the petition seeks to get approval for.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic