GM Still Pushing Cars Without Steering Wheels, Talking With NHTSA

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
gm still pushing cars without steering wheels talking with nhtsa

Remember when General Motors talked about delivering an autonomous vehicle, sans steering wheel or pedals, and how the Department of Transportation said Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards basically made it impossible? Well, GM hasn’t given up the fight to disassociate drivers from driving.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has started talks with GM over the automaker’s petition to deploy a limited number of self-driving vehicles on American roads last Friday. Acting NHTSA Administrator James Owens told Reuters that the petition (issued in 2018) is currently under review.

“I expect we’re going to be able to move forward with these petitions soon — as soon as we can,” Owens said, suggesting a final decision would be made in 2020. “This will be a big deal because this will be the first such action that will be taken.”

It’s not the only item under consideration. The federal agency is also examining requests from autonomous startup Nuro aimed at getting delivery vehicles on the road without human support drivers — not that it matters, because they also won’t have a windshield to see through.

From Reuters:

GM Chief Executive Mary Barra and U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao last week met and discussed the petition at a high level, officials said, but significant work remains at the technical level. Owens said NHTSA officials are “crawling through these petitions because we want to make sure” they are at least as safe as cars on the roads.

“There’s a lot of back and forth between us and the companies,” Owens said during a Reuters interview that also included Chao and other Transportation Department officials. “We’re sharing with them thoughts and ideas and concerns. They come back to us with additional information.”

Chao said it is important that the NHTSA take its time in reviewing the GM petition. Chao suggested that some auto industry officials and analysts were too optimistic about the timing for deployment of fully autonomous vehicles.

Both petitions request the ability to field 2,500 vehicles on public roads. GM originally wanted to get them out by the end of 2019; however, the automaker has since stretched its target date to the end time on a college party invite — leaving us with a big fat question mark. Officially, GM says it needs to conduct more testing before commercial deployment is an option. We’ve also heard that the autonomous program isn’t progressing as smoothly as desired — and not just at General Motors.

While the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards probably could use some modernization, navigating the minefields laid by the industry’s efforts to build totally self-driving cars (they aren’t here yet) is going to be an arduous task. For the most part, the Department of Transportation has been very accommodating of AVs in terms of testing — with a modicum of oversight. But allowing automakers to operate outside of established safety standards puts it a pickle, especially now that some of the initial luster of AVs has worn off.

People are no longer dazzled by the prospect of self-driving cars. There’s been too many widely publicized accidents caused by people mistakenly thinking vehicles with advanced driving aids are autonomous, a fatal incident where an autonomous test car struck a pedestrian, and countless reports detailing how it’s going to take longer to get this technology up and running than initially thought.

That said, strides are being made; these systems are always improving. Even if the NHTSA tells GM to suck an egg this time around, it can’t ignore the issue forever. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards will eventually have to be altered ( hopefully to the benefit of drivers) or exemptions will have to be made. Otherwise, autonomous vehicles will have reached a dead end in the United States.

[Image: General Motors]

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3 of 7 comments
  • Akear Akear on Dec 24, 2019

    The rest of the industry has finally realized autonomous vehicles are pretty much a dead end. GM will realize this too after wasting billions of dollars and falling even further behind in basic automotive technology.

  • Ponchoman49 Ponchoman49 on Dec 27, 2019

    Because GM never spends millions on projects that fail and get shelved right? 8-6-4 fiasco that got shelved a year later save a few limos. The W-body project. Saturn. The 3.4 Dual Twin Cam. The Atlas inline 4-5 and 6 cylinder engine family. Robots that paint each other. The Northstar V8. And more recently the CT6 sedan and the Blackwing twin turbo V8. Yeah I'm going to trust my life with a GM vehicle with no steering wheel or brakes! A company that keeps making the same blunder over and over again for over 50 years. That is the very definition of insanity!

    • 28-Cars-Later 28-Cars-Later on Dec 27, 2019

      My my how did you forget the HT4100? Additional: The reason the 368 continued until MY84 was because the 4100 didn't have the torque to carry the commercial chassis. Then for MY85 RWD they briefly ran the 4100 in the commercial chassis and it was replaced by the Olds 307. We had an MY85 Cadillac Limousine at the shop for a while once, I think it was $1,400 in 2006 with 80Kish miles. I was shocked to discover it was an 4100 under the hood.

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  • GT Ross The black wheel fad cannot die soon enough for me.
  • Brett Woods My 4-Runner had a manual with the 4-cylinder. It was acceptable but not really fun. I have thought before that auto with a six cylinder would have been smoother, more comfortable, and need less maintenance. Ditto my 4 banger manual Japanese pick-up. Nowhere near as nice as a GM with auto and six cylinders that I tried a bit later. Drove with a U.S. buddy who got one of the first C8s. He said he didn't even consider a manual. There was an article about how fewer than ten percent of buyers optioned a manual in the U.S. when they were available. Visited my English cousin who lived in a hilly suburb and she had a manual Range Rover and said she never even considered an automatic. That's culture for you.  Miata, Boxster, Mustang, Corvette and Camaro; I only want manual but I can see both sides of the argument for a Mustang, Camaro or Challenger. Once you get past a certain size and weight, cruising with automatic is a better dynamic. A dual clutch automatic is smoother, faster, probably more reliable, and still allows you to select and hold a gear. When you get these vehicles with a high performance envelope, dual-clutch automatic is what brings home the numbers. 
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