Commentary

GM Shows Off Its All-Electric, Shared, Self-Driving Vehicle Of The Future

General Motors gave a very early peek at what it called “the beginning of the future beyond the car” to a select crowd of employees and reporters last night. It looks like a loaf of fresh-baked bread, has no steering wheel, rearview mirror or pedals and purportedly will “last for more than a million miles.” And wait until you see the leg room in the spacious cabin, where two rows of seats face each other.

“The event, held in a dark San Francisco warehouse with thu­­­­mping hip-hop and orange uplighting, represented a coming-out party for the latest autonomous technology company eager to show progress at a moment when excitement around the category is waning,” Erin Griffith reports  for The New York Times.

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“The not-a-car sits on the gleaming black stage surrounded by a halo of light. It’s orange and black and white, and roughly the same size as a crossover SUV, but somehow looks much larger from the outside. There is no obvious front to the vehicle, no hood, no driver or passenger side windows, no side-view mirrors. The symmetry of the exterior is oddly comforting,” writes  Andrew J. Hawkins for The Verge.

“I am one of the first non-employees to see it, after being invited by self-driving company Cruise to come out to San Francisco for an early look. And what I see is a car. A weird-looking car, sure, but a car nonetheless. That’s what my brain tells me. But the company insists I’m not seeing what I’m seeing. One employee refers to it as ‘the property,’” Hawkins continues before delving more deeply into his experience.

Indeed, “Cruise said it was designed for shared ownership: ‘It's not a product you buy, it’s an experience you share,'” the BBC reports

“Chief executive Dan Ammann wants drivers to move away from individual ownership to a sharing model, to help reduce emissions, accidents and congestion.… He did not say when the vehicle would go into production nor how many the company planned to build. It has not been approved to drive on roads, and it will require extensive testing before this is granted,” the BBC adds.

“Ammann said the average ride-hailing service costs several dollars a mile while personal car ownership, depending on the location in the U.S., costs about a dollar a mile. ‘Our goal is to deliver something that can beat all of them,’ he said,” Tim Higgins and Mike Colias write  for The Wall Street Journal.

Ammann lays out  the Cruise’s “origin story” in a Medium post. 

“Origin means beginning. Or in this case, a new beginning for transportation -- one with no more tradeoffs. What’s good for you is good for the world,” he concludes.

“Kyle Vogt, Cruise's co-founder who sold  the company to GM in 2016 for $1 billion and now serves as chief technology officer, said that being the first automotive or tech company to introduce a dedicated autonomous ride-sharing car doesn't guarantee success,” Marco della Cava writes for USA Today.

“Consumers have yet to warm in huge numbers to sharing their Uber or Lyft rides with other riders, and Ammann said that Origins can be hailed by a single rider. But Vogt felt confident that the roomy and clubby nature of Origin's interior would ‘cut into the friction and discomfort that often comes with cramming into the back seat of a car with someone you don't know, and therefore increase the adoption of these vehicles,’” della Cava adds.

“Four years ago, self-driving hype reached a fever pitch. Automakers struck partnerships with technology companies almost every week. Start-ups raised piles of funding at high valuations…. But hype hit reality when testing data made it clear that it would take many more years for self-driving technology to be ready for widespread adoption,” the NYT’s Griffith writes.

“Tuesday’s event comes six months after Cruise delayed  the launch of a commercial, self-driving vehicle service in San Francisco, which it had expected to deploy in 2019. The company said its vehicles required further testing,” CNBC’s Michael Wayland and Lora Kolodny point out

“Ammann, formerly president of GM, and GM CEO Mary Barra have said the launch of the company’s self-driving vehicles would be ‘gated by safety.’ The postponement was an example of the technical and regulatory difficulties companies face in making truly driverless vehicles into a reality,” they add.

And that reality appears to be well worth the wait, not only to ride-hailers but also to shareholders.

“GM executives have said the market for autonomous ride-hailing could exceed $1 trillion, and have suggested that profits from a future service could exceed that of GM’s traditional vehicle-manufacturing business,” the WSJ’s Higgins and Colias observe.

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