GM seeks permission for road testing autonomous vehicle without a steering wheel

The Cruise AV is designed to operate safely on its own, with no driver, steering wheel, pedals or other manual controls when it goes on the road in 2019. (Photo courtesy of General Motors)

Perhaps the sarcastic member of your store’s used-car department often has quipped about the base-model version of a vehicle in your inventory, saying, “Well, it’s got a steering wheel!”

However, if General Motors receives permission from federal regulators on proceeding with testing its latest autonomous vehicle, your dealership’s resident jokester will have to shelve that wisecrack.

On Friday, GM announced that it filed a safety petition with the Department of Transportation for its fourth-generation self-driving Cruise AV, the first production-ready vehicle built from the start to operate safely on its own, with no driver, steering wheel, pedals or manual controls.

A trio of analysts from the Cox Automotive family of companies certainly didn’t laugh at GM’s application; rather assessing on what might happen if this member of the Big 3 is successful in gaining permission for road testing this machine.

“There are a number of hurdles to clear before self-driving cars transition from laboratory experiments to real-world functionality,” said Karl Brauer, executive publisher for Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book. “Two of those hurdles, mass production and government regulation, appear to be within General Motors’ grasp.

“We’ve known for several months GM is ready for volume production,” Brauer continued. “Now the automaker is asking for the legislative latitude to build and operate fully autonomous cars for consumer use.

“If government approval is granted, and GM begins providing autonomous taxi service to end users in multiple markets, we’ll officially be living in a world of self-driving cars,” he went on to say.

Michael Harley, managing editor for Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book, speculated as to why GM is taking this aggressive approach that .

“GM must innovate and push technology and regulations to the limit if it wants to be a leader in tomorrow’s transportation sector — not launching this program is actually a greater risk to its future,” Harley said.

“And, while shedding traditional human controls may sound terrifying to the uninitiated, it’s a sound move backed by millions of miles of real and simulated testing,” he continued.

Kelley Blue Book analyst Akshay Anand closed the discussion looking deeper into the potential impact of a vehicle that’s far from the unit equipped with only hand-crank windows and an AM radio.

“It's been clear for a while that self-driving vehicles are the future, and GM aims to make that reality an imminent one,” Anand said.

“If they are granted permission from regulators and they can solve hazardous driving scenarios, the floodgates for advanced autonomous vehicles will open,” Anand added. “Look out, folks — the revolution may be coming sooner than we thought.”

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