GM raises output of self-driving Bolts, boosts test fleet

Posted at 12:49 PM, Jun 13, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-13 12:49:19-04

DETROIT (AP) — General Motors Co. says it has built 130 self-driving Chevrolet Bolt electric cars at a factory in suburban Detroit, making it among the first automakers to mass produce self-driving vehicles.

The automaker has been building self-driving Bolts at its Orion Assembly Plant in Orion Township, Michigan, since January. Unlike GM’s earlier self-driving test vehicles, the new cars were built on the same assembly line as regular Bolts that are being sold to customers. Once they rolled off the line, the self-driving Bolts went to another area of the plant to get their hardware installed.

The Bolt is a fully electric car that went on sale late last year. It can go 238 miles on a charge, and is ideal for use as an autonomous vehicle because its electric system can charge the computers needed for self-driving capability. GM has sold around 6,000 Bolts in the U.S. so far this year.

The new cars will join 50 self-driving Bolts with older technology that are already being tested in San Francisco; Scottsdale, Arizona; and the Detroit area. GM CEO Mary Barra says the new vehicles will help GM accelerate its testing in urban environments, which are among the most challenging for autonomous cars to navigate.

GM eventually plans to place self-driving Bolts in ride-hailing fleets in major U.S. cities. But unlike other automakers — who are generally targeting 2020 or 2021 for autonomous vehicle fleets — Barra is giving no target date. She said the company has set internal targets, but it’s not announcing them because it wants to make sure the vehicles are safe before they’re released.

“Gaining our customers’ trust is extremely important,” she said.

The self-driving version of the Bolt is equipped with GM’s second-generation self-driving software and hardware. The cars have multiple cameras and 40 sensors, including a radar system that scans around corners for oncoming traffic. Five spinning Lidar cylinders on top of the car use lasers to make a three-dimensional map of the area as the vehicle is driving.

GM has been working with Lyft on autonomous vehicle research since early last year, when it invested $500 million in the San Francisco-based ride-hailing company. More recently, Lyft has partnered with some of GM’s rivals, including Waymo — Google’s self-driving car project — and Jaguar Land Rover.

Waymo is also building self-driving minivans with Fiat Chrysler, whose U.S. headquarters is just a few miles from GM’s Orion plant.

Barra said GM’s partnership with Lyft was never meant to be exclusive.

“We’re working together in one space and competing in another,” she said.

GM shares were down 8 cents to $34.60 in morning trading