David McNew, Getty Images
The Chevy Bolt EV on display last month at the L.A. Auto Show.

GM Expands Autonomous Car Program, Eyes Tesla

Dec. 16, 2016
GM expects to “become the first high-volume auto manufacturer to build fully autonomous vehicles at a mass production assembly plant,” according to CEO Mary Barra, who stopped short of setting a specific date.

CHICAGO — General Motors announced Thursday that it is expanding testing and manufacturing of autonomous vehicle technology tied to its Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicle, in a move challenging younger upstart Tesla. 

The announcement — and the first deliveries of mid-priced, all-electric Chevy Bolts earlier this week — maneuvers GM into competition with the electric car maker that has made waves with its high-priced luxury models. Tesla is planning to produce its mid-priced Model 3 starting in 2017. 

GM now will begin manufacturing a fleet of autonomous test vehicles at a Detroit-area plant, CEO Mary Barra announced at a news conference. 

“We expect GM will become the first high-volume auto manufacturer to build fully autonomous vehicles at a mass production assembly plant,” Barra said, stopping short of setting a specific date. 

The test vehicles will be Chevy Bolts outfitted with a suite of autonomous technology such as LIDAR — a radar system using lasers — cameras, sensors and other hardware. GM will also expand testing of autonomous vehicles, or AVs, on the streets of Detroit. 

The company already tests 40 vehicles in San Francisco and Scottsdale, Arizona. The Detroit expansion will allow testing of autonomous technology in winter conditions, Barra said. 

“By adding Michigan to our public testing program, we’re ensuring that our AVs can operate safely across a full range of road, weather and climate conditions,” she said. 

The company began its first deliveries of Chevy Bolt electric vehicles, without autonomous technology, on Tuesday beating Tesla to market in the moderate price range. 

The Chevy Bolt base price, at just under $30,000 with tax credits, will directly compete with Tesla’s planned Model 3, with a starting price of $35,000 before incentives. Tesla plans to start production in mid-2017. 

Chevrolet promises the Bolt can travel more than 200 miles on a single charge, also comparable to the Tesla Model 3’s 215-mile expected range. 

Tesla also plans to include its “autopilot” hardware, which allows for autonomous driving in certain conditions, in its Model 3s. GM’s testing of similar technology could potentially put it on par on that front, as well.

“We want to make sure we have safe and reliable autonomous vehicles on the road,” Barra told CNBC. “What we announced today is the next step forward.”

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2016

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