General Motors will tap into Michigan’s new self-driving car law and Chevy Bolt production to become the first automaker to mass-produce autonomous vehicles.
GM CEO Mary Barra yesterday said the automaker will “immediately” begin testing self-driving Bolts on public roads near the GM Technical Center in the Detroit area. The company expects the first self-driving Bolts to begin rolling off its assembly line in January.
While the automaker already began testing about 40 self-driving Bolts in San Francisco and Scottsdale, Ariz., the Michigan test runs will be much larger, according to Doug Parks, GM’s vice president of autonomous technology and vehicle execution.
GM will be utilizing Michigan’s broad and liberal autonomous vehicle policy – and its severe weather conditions.
“We’re ensuring that our AVs can operate safely across a full range of road, weather and climate conditions,” Barra said at a news conference.
A week ago, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation that allows automakers and technology partners to develop, test, and sell autonomous vehicles in the state. That policy goes farther than what other states have enacted – allowing for steering wheels and brake pedals to be removed, permission for companies to offer ride-hailing services with autonomous vehicles, and sales to consumers of self-driving cars that have passed testing and certification.
Autonomous Bolts will be assembled at GM’s plant in Orion Township, Mich. That’s where non-autonomous all-electric Bolts are already being built, along with the Chevy Sonic subcompact car. GM workers will be adding to some of the Bolts cameras, sensors, Lidar, and other autonomous technology that will be tested out.
Road testing has been limited to private roads within a mile of GM’s Technical Center. Barra said that will be opening up later to roads nearby, and after that, expanded throughout the Detroit area.
The GM CEO declined to state when autonomous Bolts will be available for sale to the public. The company did say earlier this year that self-driving Bolts will be used for ride-hailing services through its partnership with Lyft within a few years.
As for non-autonomous Bolts, Chevy dealers began selling them in California and Oregon this week. GM said it will be expanding the market to New York, Massachusetts, and Virginia in early 2017. The Bolt will be sold nationwide around the middle of the year.
GM has been testing out autonomous vehicles for several years, and is now part of a much larger push by automakers, auto suppliers, and technology companies to make autonomous vehicles common on U.S. roads.
Tesla Model S and Model X vehicles equipped with hardware for full autonomy are already in production, and the upcoming Model 3 will have it as well, according to Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Tesla’s autonomous system still needs to clear through government approval.