GM says it will have a ride-sharing service featuring its line of self-driving Chevy Bolts ready to go by 2019. That would place the No. 1 US automaker ahead of its main rival Ford, which has said it plans to unveil its own self-driving car without pedals or a steering wheel by 2021.
GM’s top executives made the announcement today during a call with investors. The company recently allowed reporters to take rides in its autonomous test cars through the congested streets of San Francisco. Most reported that the car handled most situations proficiently, with a few hiccups.
But GM is obviously feeling pressured to fast-track its self-driving taxi service, especially in light of recent developments like Alphabet’s Waymo deploying its fleet of autonomous minivans in Arizona without a human driver behind the wheel.
Waymo’s technology may be more advanced than GM’s, and its cars may have racked up more miles of experience, but GM has been on a buying spree as it seeks to shore up its position in both autonomous and electric vehicle development. Last month, Cruise, the self-driving unit of GM, said that it would buy Strobe, a startup that makes LIDAR sensors that help autonomous vehicles “see” their surroundings. Cruise itself was acquired last year for over half a billion dollars.
The race to deploy a commercial, self-driving product pits GM against untraditional players like Waymo and Uber. Uber has self-driving vehicles ferrying passengers in Pittsburgh and Phoenix, but has yet to say when it plans to start monetizing its service. Waymo plans to start shepherding passengers in its fully driverless minivans (no safety driver) within the next few months, but that will only be available to a very limited group of passengers. GM is unique in its position that it will have a scalable commercial product in just two years.
The automaker didn’t say which cities would play host to its robot taxis, but it would likely include San Francisco, where its autonomous Chevy Bolts are already prowling the streets, and New York City, where GM has said it plans to start testing in 2018.