GM is dropping the steering wheel in autonomous cars

Sunday, 14 Jan, 2018

General Motors is asking the federal government to allow the carmaker to launch a self-driving vehicle without a steering wheel next year. It describes the vehicle as "the first production-ready vehicle built from the start to operate safely on its own, with no driver, steering wheel, pedals or manual controls".

It's a bold move from GM, the automaker behind Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC.

If approved, the Cruise AVs would probably appear first in San Francisco or Phoenix, where G.M.'s self-driving subsidiary, Cruise Automation, is conducting tests. Companies are noticing the potential of this market in the coming years and that's one reason why you see that there's a lot of investment that has gone into making technologies that will make driving a auto unnecessary.

The Detroit-based motoring firm's Cruise Automation unit says the Cruise AV, a rebranded version of GM's Chevrolet Bolt EV, has even been created to open doors for passengers.

Welcome to the courageous new world of true driverless auto. The cars also have a backup braking system independent of the autonomous-driving system that activates if a crash is imminent.

GM plans to deploy its self-driving vehicles first for ride-sharing service. The request focuses mainly on rules tailored around traditional vehicle design, such the regulation mandating that the airbag in front of the driver's seat needs to be inside a steering wheel. "So it's to meet the standards but meet them in a way that's different than what's exactly prescribed, and that's what the petition seeks to get approval for", Ammann said.

Asked for comment, two DOT spokespeople did not immediately respond.

Of course, the current regulations aren't quite at the same point that driverless vehicle technology is. Riders will be able to control the vehicle's temperature and radio station, and a touchscreen inside will offer real-time status information about the ride. The automaker and companies including Alphabet Inc.'s Waymo unit and startup Zoox Inc. have demonstrated cars that can drive with so-called Level 4 autonomy. But Waymo's self-driving fleet still has controls. The automaker has been on a buying spree, acquired LIDAR startup Strobe and Cruise to help it become a "full-stack" autonomous vehicle company.

GM envisions a "controlled deployment", where the Cruise AV takes on ride-hailing duties only in geofenced areas with roads that have high-definition map data.

Gary Gastelu is's Automotive Editor.