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Analyzing General Motors' (GM) Cruise: A Front-Runner in AV Space

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Autonomous vehicle (“AV”) technology is a breakthrough in the automotive industry. The AVs are no longer a figment of imagination in the era of artificial intelligence (“AI”) and are radically transforming travel. The AV technology is based on advanced driver-assistance systems (“ADAS”), including emergency braking, back-up cameras, adaptive cruise control, and self-parking systems.

Given the rapid advances in the AV technology, the race to get self-driving vehicles on the road has been gearing up in the past couple of years, with multiple auto giants making remarkable progress. Amid this rapidly changing scenario, General Motors’ GM majority-owned Cruise is one of the leading names. It has been pushing for a first-mover advantage in AV services and operated a limited autonomous vehicle ride-hailing fleet with a human attendant in Phoenix since 2018.

In January 2020, Cruise took the wraps off the Origin robotaxi — a driverless electric shuttle, which has no steering wheel, pedals or other manual controls.  Also, Cruise has been providing automated deliveries in partnership with Walmart in the Phoenix area since late 2020.

Commercializing autonomous vehicles has been far more challenging than many had predicted, but Cruise is considered to be one of the frontrunners in this sector. Though in 2019, Cruise missed a target to deploy robotaxis across several U.S. cities, it may soon be able to offer robotaxis to the public in San Francisco. This is because on Sep 30, 2021, Cruise received a permit, called the driverless deployment permit, from the California Department of Motor Vehicles that will allow it to offer and charge a fee for ride-hailing services without a safety operator behind the wheels. Cruise vehicles have received a green signal to operate between 10PM and 6AM at a maximum speed of 30mph.

The latest approval makes Cruise the first autonomous ride-hail company to receive a driverless deployment permit in the state. This is a major milestone for the company that has spent billions in getting its AV technology ready and in securing regulatory permission to run cars sans a human safety driver. It brings Cruise closer to its mission of making transportation safer and more affordable with its fleet of all-electric, self-driving and shared vehicles.

Further, Cruise anticipates making $50 billion in revenues as it scales up operations over the next couple of years. The company plans to charge for rides as early as next year with a modified version of the Chevrolet Bolt electric car. Also, the company anticipates to start offering shared ride services in 2023 with its Origin autonomous shuttle, if it secures an approval from California regulators.

Apart from General Motors, other companies aiming to commercialize self-driving vehicles for the ride-hailing market include Alphabet GOOGL-owned self-driving car pioneer Waymo, Ford F and Tesla TSLA.

Meanwhile, taking its AV game a notch higher, General Motors recently unveiled Ultra Cruise, an all-new, advanced driver-assistance technology, which will enable a true hands-free driving. This new system uses sensors like cameras, radars, and lidar to control a vehicle’s steering, acceleration and braking. The company notes that the new system can be used in 95% of the driving scenarios and will be available in a handful of high-end vehicles starting 2023.

General Motors' first-generation ADAS — Super Cruise — which debuted in 2017 in the Cadillac CT6 sedan had garnered immense appreciation as a safer and more capable version of Tesla’s Autopilot, thanks to its camera-based driver monitoring system. Super Cruise will co-exist with Ultra Cruise, with the former available in more mainstream vehicles, while the latter will be exclusive for premium models.

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