Autonomous driving: no steering wheel needed?

Status: 07/21/2022 14:12

In the autonomous visions of GM and Ford, you will not find a steering wheel, accelerator or foot brake. Will cars without human control soon hit the streets?

Author: Angela Göpfert,

Steering wheel? brake pedal? Sun visor for the driver? Other controls only useful for human drivers? You won’t find them on GM Cruise Origin. Cruise Origin has a subway-like door – so you can clearly see what target group it is designed for: carpool services. The futuristic-looking ferry can seat four to six people – and that could happen soon.

Ford and GM want special permits

Because General Motors and its US competitor Ford have submitted two separate applications to the US Transportation Safety Agency (NHTSA) for a special permit to use a limited number of autonomous cars.

Both car makers want to use up to 2,500 vehicles per year for car pooling and delivery services. This is exactly the legal boundary for fully autonomous vehicles in the United States.

The driver as an “unacceptable safety risk”

Both proposals impressively reflect the new role of man in the brave new world of autonomous cars. For example, Ford explained in its application to NHTSA: Active driving controls would constitute an “unacceptable safety risk”.

From this point of view, humans are no longer the “fallback option” that comes to the rescue when technology (once again) fails. On the contrary, people themselves become a security threat.

The sale of autonomous cars to private customers is forbidden

Consumers who can live with such a view and hope that they will soon be able to buy such a vehicle themselves, e.g. to take them to work relaxed with reading or a nap, or take their children for a horse ride or a bathing vacation, but they see themselves deceived. Neither manufacturer is seeking approval to sell autonomous vehicles to private customers, the applications say.

In fact, no manufacturer in the world has yet announced a set date on which it intends to start selling highly automated cars. Because it only pays off if autonomous driving is allowed in large parts of the world.

In addition, the purchase costs are likely to be enormous as sensors and computers make autonomous cars much more expensive. The areas of application that GM and Ford are targeting, such as car pooling, freight and package delivery, make more sense as costs can be recovered faster. It is estimated that driverless taxis may become common between 2030 and 2040.

This is how important Cruise is to GM

Regardless of the uncertainty, the hopes both automotive groups have for their vision of autonomous cars are just as great. For General Motors (GM), whose cruise division recently focused on launching a robotaxi business and generating revenue, Cruise Origin is the next logical step.

Last year, GM chief executive Mary Barra announced an ambitious plan with the traditional Detroit-based automaker to double sales to $ 280 billion by 2030. Cruise alone is expected to account for approximately $ 50 billion from the projected sales increases.

GM plans to invest $ 35 billion in developing battery electric and autonomous cars over the next four years. It is estimated that the global autonomous driving market will more than double between 2021 and 2025 to over $ 50 billion.

Cruise IPO off the table

This step also shows how important the autonomous driving division has become for a traditional Detroit-based car company that even had to file for bankruptcy during the 2009 financial crisis: In the spring of 2022, GM bought a stake in Japanese technology group Softbank’s Cruise. for $ 2.1 billion. Following the close of the deal, GM will own approximately 80 percent of Cruise.

At the same time, GM destroyed the hopes of investors and analysts for further autonomy for the autonomous driving specialist. Cruise’s possible IPO seems to be in order.

German law regulates autonomous driving up to “level 4”

In Germany, driverless vehicles such as the GM Cruise could only be used locally. This is regulated in the “Autonomous Driving Act”. Consequently, so-called Tier 4 vehicles are only permitted on fixed routes and previously approved operational areas. This includes, for example, shuttle traffic and the transport of people and goods over the first or last mile, but also fully automatic parking.

In addition, a person has to be under constant technical supervision, for example a robotaxi worker in the supervision room. In the case of autonomous cars, people will not be completely redundant, at least from a specific German legal perspective.

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