General Motors, largest U.S. automaker will expand its fleet of autonomous Chevrolet Bolts to 180 of the electric vehicles, Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra said Tuesday. The latest 130 cars will be equipped with a suite of cameras, sensors and other hardware that’s been updated from the systems used on 50 self-driving Bolts already being tested in San Francisco, metro Detroit and Scottsdale, Arizona.
Building the cars is an important step as GM goes head to head with rival carmakers like Tesla Inc. and West Coast technology powerhouses like Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo in bringing fully self-driving cars to market. Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook acknowledged publicly for the first time that the iPhone maker is in the mix, telling Bloomberg Television this month that the company views autonomous systems as a core technology it’s working on.
“We intend for GM to be the leader and not only in development, but the leader in deployment,” Barra told reporters from GM’s assembly plant in Orion Township, Michigan, where the company is building the self-driving Chevy Bolt test vehicles.
GM has been pushing hard to develop autonomous autos since acquiring self-driving software startup Cruise Automation last year. The unit, led by founder Kyle Vogt, has played a lead role in GM’s autonomous technology development. Since buying Cruise, GM has tripled the staff to 150 people and plans to hire 1,100 new employees over the next five years.
This fall, GM plans to start selling its Cadillac CT6 sedan with Super Cruise, a technology that will allow drivers to go hands-free while the car accelerates, brakes and centers itself in traffic lanes. The company has said the semi-autonomous technology will allow for safely letting go of the wheel to use the navigation system, adjust the audio system or take a phone call, though it will monitor drivers to ensure their eyes stay on the road.
Apple secured a permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles in April to test three self-driving sports-utility vehicles, photos of which emerged several weeks later. In a June 5 interview, Cook likened autonomous-car systems to “the mother of all AI projects,” saying it’s “probably one of the most difficult AI projects to work on.”
Alphabet’s Waymo has plans for a bigger self-driving vehicle fleet than GM’s. It’s going to use 500 customized Chrysler Pacifica minivans to start an early-rider service for Phoenix residents this year. That project builds on the deal Waymo inked with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV in December to produce 100 of the vans.