GM to Build Prototype Autonomous Cars in Chevy Bolt Factory
DETROIT, Michigan – General Motors will begin assembly of prototype autonomous Chevrolet Bolts early next year alongside production versions of the new electric vehicle in Orion Township, Michigan, CEO Mary Barra announced here Thursday afternoon. GM believes it’s the first mainline automaker to build autonomous prototypes on a standard assembly line, Barra said.
The announcement indicates that GM intends to move fast in getting the technology on the road and in the hands of mainstream consumers, including customers of its nascent Maven car-sharing program. Ford Motor Company CEO Mark Fields has said his company will offer fully autonomous cars by 2021; other competitors are pushing the technology ahead of the coming decade.
GM again confirmed that its SuperCruise driver-assist suite of technologies will debut on the Cadillac CT6 in 2017, but again declined to indicate exactly when the system will be available.
The difference between the autonomous Bolts and SuperCruise is that the latter is primarily for automated driving on freeways or limited-access highways while the former is primarily a city car. That entails negotiating urban streets full of pedestrians, bicyclists, and pets. The autonomous Bolt on display at GM Headquarters in the Renaissance Center features a prominent Velodyne LIDAR system on its roof and radar in the front fascia. One advantage is that when such a car is used though Maven, it can drive itself from one customer to another. Another is that GM’s ride-share partner, Lyft, will someday be able to shuttle customers without a driver behind the wheel.
GM began testing more than 40 autonomous Chevrolet Bolt EVs on the streets of San Francisco and Scottsdale, Arizona last June. This week, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed the SAVE Act, which allows fully autonomous testing on public roads here. Unlike Google’s autonomous prototypes, GM’s Chevy Bolts are conventional electric vehicles with steering wheels, brakes, and throttle pedals.
GM declined to say how many cars will be tested in Michigan, how many it plans to produce in the Orion Township plant, and for how long production will last. Some of the autonomous technology equipment can be added to the Bolts directly on the assembly line, while certain parts have to be added in off-line, said Doug Parks, vice president of autonomous technology. But it’s clear that with prototypes being built on a regular assembly line, GM has a jump on its competitors and can start building salable cars once the technology is perfected.