Mrs. Barra Goes to Washington

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

mrs barra goes to washington

General Motors CEO Mary Barra met with Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell, (D-WA) and fellow Democratic Commerce Committee member Gary Peters in Washington D.C. on Thursday to help lobby for favorable legislation pertaining to self-driving cars. Though it sounds like they were already on board with whatever GM wanted, as they’ve already started repeating familiar rhetoric designed to encourage legislators to tweak Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS).

The meetings coincide with Barra's press events discussing how the automaker would like to implement artificial intelligence (including the infamous ChatGPT) into future products.

"We must act to ensure U.S. manufacturers can compete with countries like China, create jobs here and improve roadway safety," Peters, who represents GM’s Michigan homeland, was quoted as saying by Automotive News.

He followed up by mentioning that he had spoken with Barra and discussed "the future of mobility – including autonomous vehicles."

While automakers tapping sympathetic legislators to change automotive regulations is basically a staple of modern governance at this point, the term mobility is old hat, largely meaningless, and makes your author feel as if we’ve all been teleported back to 2014 when the empty rhetoric surrounding self-driving cars really ramped up. At the time, U.S. legislators failed to make sweeping changes to the FMVSS. But the government still said automakers could field a limited number of autonomous test vehicles (usually determined by the state) and self-certify those units as safe under some of the loosest guidance imaginable.

But regulations are tricky and it’s difficult to say what the government should have done even with the benefit of hindsight. Nobody wanted to hinder the development of what looked to be a miraculous new technology. However, legislators and the Department of Transportation didn’t seem terribly comfortable eliminating laws that required vehicles to have modern controls just so automakers could offer transportation without steering wheels – which is something GM seems curiously obsessed with.

From Automotive News:

GM and its self-driving technology unit, Cruise, in February 2022 disclosed that they had petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for permission to deploy up to 2,500 self-driving vehicles annually without steering wheels, mirrors, turn signals or windshield wipers.
GM wants to deploy its Origin vehicle, which has subway-like doors and no steering wheels. GM says vehicles will require passengers to buckle seat belts prior to autonomous rides. The NHTSA opened the petition for public comment in July but has not acted on it.
In 2017, the House of Representatives passed by voice vote legislation to speed the adoption of self-driving cars, bar states from setting performance standards and expand the number of vehicles that could be deployed with exemptions, but the bill never passed the U.S. Senate.

Though it may not have mattered in the end. Despite some desirable advanced driving aids being added in as standard equipment in recent years, much of the related technology has run into trouble and often doesn’t work as reliably as one would have hoped. It has also failed to develop on the promised timelines – with numerous automakers previously having promised that genuine vehicular autonomy would become available by 2020.

Legal hurdles have been another massive obstacle, as having a vehicle that could effectively drive itself raises all kinds of questions about liability. For example, if the system fails to avoid an accident and harms a pedestrian, is that the fault of the driver or the manufacturer? This is something automakers and insurance companies want to figure out – likely attempting to put the onus back on the human driver. But if the vehicle is supposed to handle everything but selecting a destination and the driver doesn’t even have standard controls, that’ll be a tough sell in the courts.

The above has the potential to nullify consumer acceptance while likewise making the technology far less lucrative to automakers. Car companies want self-driving vehicles to provide more opportunities for occupants to interact with interior screens, engaging in advertisements, commercial partnerships, and data-harvesting opportunities they believe will be extremely profitable in the years ahead. This is also why many manufacturers have begun marketing themselves as “software” and/or “mobility” companies over the last decade. But the scheme won’t work unless the law is on their side, so automakers have to reach out to legislators in the hopes that they’ll help forward industry-approved regulatory proposals.

That said, some of us are of the opinion that the industry is putting the cart before the horse here. Self-driving technology has been over-hyped for years and still seems to be years away from producing anything commercially viable.

In December, the NHTSA launched an investigation into the safety of the autonomous driving systems utilized by GM’s Cruise after reports of injuries in rear-end crashes. The agency said it had received notices of incidents in which self-driving Cruise vehicles "may engage in inappropriately hard braking or become immobilized."

That same month, Cruise announced it was cooperating in the investigation, stating that it had "driven nearly 700,000 fully autonomous miles in an extremely complex urban environment with zero life-threatening injuries or fatalities."

[Images: General Motors]

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  • Kosmo Would have bought the passenger version to replace my wife's beloved, but aging, Honda Element if it were available in AWD. Swing and a miss there by Ford, IMO.
  • Tassos Ι never shop from these ripoff, truly junk food gas station minimarts unless my life depends on it, meaning just COFFEE if I got to have it or I will fall asleep on the wheel. When I go on a long trip, I carry a thermos of coffee plus more than enough frozen water bottles with me. only IF I run out of those, do I stop and get coffee as above.Actually there is a smarter way, bring your own cans of pop (WITH caffeine) in the car and just get a big paper cup full of ice (usually for free) at your ripoff joint.As far as hunger, I usually carry with me a box of granola bars, and even more convenient, some hard candy.There is no need whatsoever to prove your economic and nutritional illiteracy by shopping at these god-awful gas station minimarts.And for god's sake do not get any Starbucks or equally RIPOFF coffee. I buy my Maxwell house 30 oz cans at Krogers, before Biden I could get them for $3.99 (!!!) and they last me for more than a month (200 small cups or so, as they say on the can). After Biden, they go for no less than $6.99. STILL a great deal compared to the two measly Starbucks coffees you get for the same $.You take care of the pennies, and the MILLIONS will take care of themselves. I found this slightly modified adage so true in real life!
  • Xidex wow so much hate here lol.. I have mostly owned Fords my whole life and have never had any issue with any of them whether its a car or a truck. They must be doing something right as they sell the most trucks and do well with the SUV's. My last car was a 2013 SHO Taurus which just recently got traded in due too age and mileage. That car never missed a beat and I was very happy with it. My most current Ford is a 2020 F150 and my wife has a 22 Bronco, zero issues. but I sure get a good giggle when i speak to family who has all gone to Hyundai (they have never been loyal to any one brand, just buy what they like). Dads sonata is on its 2nd motor after owning it for 2 weeks. sun roof came loose and and and...Sad thing is i do prefer a sedan so unfortunately will have to look at other companies but there isn't anything out there that really interests me (well anything i can afford)But what Ford and GM have done make perfect sense. You cant appease every buyer out there but when the car buyers are few and those few are probably all loyal to Brand X then why would you waste the resources to sell to a limited market.
  • ToolGuy I enjoy a good seven course meal (nine is pretentious; first class on the Titanic enjoyed 11 courses but we know how that went). Some say that a nice full course meal should take 4-6 hours. But because I drive an EV and prefer not to charge at voltages over 125, I can really take my time and savor my meals while traveling.
  • ToolGuy "creating a much longer wheelbase" Mmmmm...