No Pedals, No Wheel: GM Unveils Bolt-based Autonomous Fleet

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

General Motors has showcased its plan to launch public ride-hailing services by teasing a self-driving vehicle with no manual controls whatsoever. The fleet is said to arrive in 2019, which gives us plenty of time to form an angry mob.

On Thursday, the company announced it had submitted a safety petition to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration requesting that autonomous Chevrolet Bolts be allowed to operate on public roads without adhering to the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards that pertain to actual driving.

If you’re asking yourself if this is even allowable, it is. The NHTSA’s updated autonomous safety guidance essentially gives automakers carte blanche to do whatever they want when it comes to autonomous testing. GM also said it filed the petition in conjunction with the Department of Transportation, meaning it’s probably going to get the green light on this.

When it does, the company plants to add up to 2,500 self-driving vehicles per year as part of an autonomous taxi service. The initial vehicle will be the Cruise AV, which is basically the Bolt without a steering wheel. As this is the first application of its kind, GM can frame this as test platform and take full advantage of the freshly relaxed standards of the Department of Transportation and NHTSA.

The automaker, however, promises it is pursuing safety relentlessly — releasing an extensive Self-Driving Safety Report for 2018. While the report reads like propaganda as much as it does a factual assessment of the company’s autonomous strategy, it does prove the automaker’s taking the matter seriously. Of course, being one of the first automakers to dive into a new market, there is no way it wouldn’t be.

“We’re seeking to maintain the same, equal safety but to achieve the safety objectives of some standards in a different way,” Paul Hemmersbaugh, a former chief counsel for NHTSA who now serves as chief counsel for GM’s mobility efforts, told Automotive News. “…we can’t achieve them without a human driver or without a steering wheel [under the current standards].”

As the images provided by General Motors are renderings (check out the odd alignment of the center stack), we don’t know if the pictured vehicle represents a functional prototype or something more conceptual. The final version of the Cruise AV may not look exactly like this but, based on what the company says, it won’t have driving controls of any kind.

That bothers us. It isn’t because we’re entirely adverse to autonomous functions; we think Cadillac’s SuperCruise system is borderline miraculous. But this sets a precedent for removing the driving element from cars altogether. It’s the first physical step in Bob Lutz’s doomsday scenario for driving — a dystopian society where the manual operation of an automobile becomes illegal. We thought it was pure conjecture, a hypothetical path that could take place in some far-off future after we are all dead and buried. But the groundwork is being established by one of the world’s largest automakers as early as next year.

No pedals? No Steering wheel? No thanks, GM.

[Image: General Motors]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • MBella MBella on Jan 13, 2018

    Who here has noticed a pilot manually flying landing plane? It happens all the time because a computer can't be programmed to react to complicated wind conditions. Modern aircraft have technology that works way better than the current camera, radar and laser systems that are being used to try and automate cars. With all that excellent technology, pilots still have to take over on a regular basis. Why we would think that autonomous vehicle technology is anywhere near the point that you could go away from a human override is beyond me.

  • Syke Syke on Jan 13, 2018

    And what does the passenger do if the system screws up? You'd think they would at least put in a brake pedal to allow for a manual panic stop. I seem to remember that public transportation has some sort of pull cord to stop the vehicle in an emergency (or to signal an upcoming unscheduled stop.

  • Stephen My "mid-level" limited edition Tonino Lambo Ferraccio Junior watch has performed flawlessly with attractive understated style for nearly 20 years. Their cars are not so much to my taste-- my Acura NSX is just fine. Not sure why you have such condescension towards these excellent timepieces. They are attractive without unnecessary flamboyance, keep perfect time and are extremely reliable. They are also very reasonably priced.
  • Dana You don’t need park, you set auto hold (button on the console). Every BMW answers to ‘Hey, BMW’, but you can set your own personal wake word in iDrive. It takes less than 5 minutes to figure that that out, btw. The audio stays on which is handy for Teams meetings. Once your phone is out of range, the audio is stopped on the car. You can always press down on the audio volume wheel which will mute it, if it bothers you. I found all the controls very intuitive.
  • ToolGuy Not sure if I've ever said this, or if you were listening:• Learn to drive, people.Also, learn which vehicles to take home with you and which ones to walk away from. You are an adult now, think for yourself. (Those ads are lying to you. Your friendly neighborhood automotive dealer, also lying to you. Politicians? Lying to you. Oh yeah, learn how to vote lol.)Addendum for the weak-minded who think I am advocating some 'driver training' program: Learning is not something you do in school once for all time. Learning how to drive is not something that someone does for you. It is a continuous process driven by YOU. Learn how to learn how to drive, and learn to drive. Keep on learning how to drive. (You -- over there -- especially you, you kind of suck at driving. LOL.)Example: Do you know where your tires are? When you are 4 hours into a 6 hour interstate journey and change lanes, do you run over the raised center line retroreflective bumpers, or do you steer between them?
  • Mike Bradley Advertising, movies and TV, manufacturing, and car culture have all made speeding and crashing the ultimate tests of manhood. Throw in the political craziness and you've got a perfect soup of destruction and costs.
  • Lou_BC Jay Leno had said that EV's would be good since they could allow the continued existence of ICE cars for enthusiasts. That sentiment makes sense. Many buyers see vehicles as a necessary appliance.