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Steering wheel superfluous?

Steering wheel? brake pedal? Sun visor for the driver? Other controls only useful for human drivers? You won't find them in the GM Cruise Origin. The Cruise Origin has subway-like doors – and thus makes it clear for which target group it was designed: ride-sharing services. Four to six people can take a seat in the futuristic-looking shuttle – and that may soon be the case.

Ford and GM want special permits

Because General Motors and its US competitor Ford have submitted two separate applications to the US Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) for a special permit to use a limited number of autonomous automobiles.

The two carmakers want to use up to 2,500 vehicles per year for ridesharing and delivery services. That's exactly the legal limit for fully autonomous vehicles in the United States.

The driver as an "unacceptable safety risk"

The two proposals impressively reflect the new role of humans in the brave new world of self-driving cars. For example, Ford explained in its application to the NHTSA: Active driving controls would represent an "unacceptable safety risk".

From this point of view, people are no longer the "fallback option" that comes to the rescue when technology (once again) messes up. On the contrary: people themselves become a security risk.

No sale of self-driving cars to private customers

Consumers who can live with such a view and hope that they will soon be able to buy such a vehicle themselves, for example to take them to work relaxed with a read or a nap, or to take their children to go horseback riding or swimming leave, but see themselves deceived. Neither manufacturer is seeking approval for the sale of self-driving vehicles to private customers, the applications say.

In fact, no manufacturer in the world has yet announced a fixed date from which they intend to start selling highly automated cars. Because it will only be worthwhile if autonomous driving is allowed in large parts of the world.

In addition, the acquisition costs are likely to be enormous, since sensors and computers make self-driving cars significantly more expensive. The areas of application targeted by GM and Ford, such as ride-sharing, ride-hailing and parcel delivery, make more sense since the costs can be recovered more quickly. It is estimated that driverless taxis could become widespread between 2030 and 2040.

That's how important Cruise is to GM

As great as the uncertainties are, the hopes that the two automotive groups are putting in their self-driving car visions are just as great. For General Motors (GM), whose cruise division has recently focused on getting its robotaxi business up and running and generating revenue, the Cruise Origin is the next logical step.

Last year, GM boss Mary Barra announced an ambitious plan according to which the traditional Detroit automaker plans to double its sales to $280 billion by 2030. Of the forecast sales increases, Cruise alone is said to account for around $50 billion.

GM plans to invest $35 billion in the development of battery electric and autonomous cars over the next four years. It is estimated that the global market for autonomous driving will more than double between 2021 and 2025 to over 50 billion dollars.

Cruise IPO off the table

This step also shows how important the self-driving division has become for the traditional Detroit-based car company, which even had to file for bankruptcy during the 2009 financial crisis: In the spring of 2022, GM bought the Japanese technology group Softbank's Cruise stake for $2.1 billion away. After the transaction closes, GM will own approximately 80 percent of Cruise.

At the same time, GM destroyed the hopes of investors and analysts that the specialist for autonomous driving would have more autonomy. A possible IPO by Cruise seems to be off the table for good.

German law regulates autonomous driving up to "Level 4"

In Germany, driverless vehicles like the GM Cruise could only be used locally. This is regulated in the "Act on Autonomous Driving". Accordingly, so-called Level 4 vehicles are only permitted on fixed routes and previously approved operating areas. This includes, for example, shuttle traffic and the transport of people and goods on the first or last mile, but also fully automatic parking.

In addition, a person must constantly be in charge of technical supervision, such as a robotaxi employee in a surveillance room. In the case of self-driving cars, people will not be completely superfluous, at least from the specific German legal perspective.

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