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