Autonomous Chevy Bolt EVs likely to reach many major cities in "single digit years, not decades"

GM CEO Mary Barra recently spoke with The Atlantic at City Lab Detroit about the future of autonomous and electric vehicles. There she again made a call for a national ZEV program. She also re-iterated the need for government - industry partnerships to maintain America's EV leadership.

The electric transition is inevitable and current Chevrolet models like the Chevy Volt and  Chevy Bolt are just the first steps. Barra says as infrastructure improves and automakers achieve profitability, "Customers are very rational. And they'll make the right decision. So we need to move on that path. "

In order to prepare for this, a culture change needed to occur at GM. This has happened over the course of years as they rid themselves of outdated thinking. "There were individuals within the company that challenged - and this was more than a decade ago - the science of global warming. But clearly with the expertise we have in the company, when I've been on the leadership staff in the CEO role, we've never questioned. So we knew we were on the path towards electric vehicles."

Barra says their recently announced partnership with Honda for a purpose built autonomous platform is where things get exciting for Cruise. "When you don't need to have a steering wheel and pedals you can really change the way people move. Make it a more productive space for them."

That is not to say a steering wheel free model will be the first to hit the streets. Or that steering wheels will go away anytime soon. Future local and federal regulatory requirements are an open question. "Right now, motor vehicle safety standards require a steering wheel, brake and accelerator pedal."

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Like other automakers, GM is still struggling to tame full self driving

Mary Barra says her company already has the ability to scale to mass production of the Autonomous Chevy Bolt EVs. However automakers can not take the immense technological challenge lightly. Their own high safety standards ensure that they will not launch prematurely.

In fact, some former GM and Cruise Automation employees told Reuters that things aren't progressing as quickly as the company would hope. Primarily in the difficulty of identifying whether objects are in motion or stationary. The software sometimes fails to recognize pedestrians, sees phantom bicycles, and will subsequently brake suddenly.

These are similar issues to those seen on other partial and fully autonomous systems. One GM source claims that "Nothing is on schedule," including mileage targets and tech milestones.

GM President Dan Ammann said in an interview with Reuters that this is the "engineering challenge of our generation." But he believes the company is still ahead of the competition. "Right now we are in a race to the starting line," Said Ammann. "Getting stuck on one particular parameter, or one particular scenario, is missing the fundamental point of what is the total overall performance of the system."

Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt knows the company is making progress and is in it for the long haul. A market ready fully autonomous service will not happen overnight. But he told Reuters that they're still on track to hit their 2019 goal.

"With 10 engineers, you can bolt a bunch of sensors onto a car and put a computer in it and get it to drive around the block," Vogt told Reuters. A commercial product is "about 10,000 times harder."

Interested in the full talk? Check out the Facebook Live video below!

Source: Facebook Live, Autoblog