No sooner had Michigan approved legislation to legalize autonomous vehicle testing and deployment on state roadways than General Motors (GM) announced it will take advantage of the new law.
The carmaker says it will begin testing immediately with plans to start turning out the next generation of its autonomous test vehicles at its Orion Township assembly plant in the coming year.
“Revolutionizing transportation for our customers while improving safety on roads is the goal of our autonomous vehicle technology,” said General Motors Chairman and CEO Mary Barra. “Our autonomous technology will be reliable and safe, as customers have come to expect from any of our vehicles.”
Will begin using Michigan's public roads
GM has already begun testing at its facility in Warren, Mich., and now that it's legal to operate self-driving cars on Michigan highways, it will begin using public roads near the facility. After that, the company says it will take to the streets of metro Detroit, where research will focus on how these cars perform in colder climates.
The plan is for employees at GM's Orion Township assembly plant to build test fleet Bolt EVs equipped with fully autonomous technology. The plant now turns out the Chevrolet Bolt EV and Sonic.
“As one of the world's largest manufacturers, GM needs to be at the forefront of autonomous vehicle development,” said Rebecca Lindland, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book, in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “They can leverage their global footprint to create products suited for different markets. The challenge is for consumers to believe one of the world's largest manufacturers can design and innovate such technology. Hopefully being early on road testing will convey that yes, they can and are innovating.”
Possible Google tie-in?
It's also possible GM might obtain technology from other sources. Just days before GM's announcement, a published report said Google is backing away from plans to produce its own self-driving car, but will work with existing carmakers. Officials at Google have made no official announcement.
GM, however, might not need Google's technology. It has been quietly working on autonomous technology throughout 2016. In January, the company formed an autonomous vehicle engineering team and invested $500 million in Lyft's autonomous vehicle initiative.
It acquired an automation software company in March, and in June it started testing vehicles in San Francisco and Scottsdale, Ariz.