With its EPA-rated 238-mile range and a base price of $37,495, the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV is a serious foray by General Motors into mass-market, long-range electric cars.

It turns out the Bolt EV will play another important role for the company, too: it will be a testbed for its autonomous-driving technologies.

Earlier this year, autonomous Bolt EV prototypes began testing on public streets in San Francisco and Scottsdale, Arizona, deployed by GM's Cruise Automation subsidiary.

DON'T MISS: First 2017 Chevy Bolt EV electric cars sold today, in California

Now the automaker will begin testing similar cars on public roads in its home state of Michigan.

The announcement came shortly after Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed the SAVE Act, a package of rules meant to promote the deployment of autonomous vehicles.

It included provisions allowing automakers to run autonomous ride-sharing services, allow self-driving cars to operate without a human driver behind the wheel, and for eventual sale of self-driving cars to consumers.

Chevrolet Bolt EV self-driving prototype

Chevrolet Bolt EV self-driving prototype

Michigan was already one of a handful of states that explicitly legalized limited testing of self-driving cars on public roads, but the SAVE Act provides a further legal path toward commercialization of the technology.

Autonomous Bolt EV electric cars are already testing within the boundaries of GM's Technical Center campus in Warren, Michigan, the company said in a press release.

But with the passage of the SAVE Act, it said, GM will now expand testing to public roads around the campus.

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Within the next few months, GM plans to enlarge the testing area still further, to include metro Detroit.

This will help it understand the capabilities of self-driving cars in winter conditions, the company noted.

An expanded test fleet of autonomous Bolt EVs will be built on the same Orion Township assembly line as conventional versions of the electric car, with the necessary equipment for autonomous driving added during assembly.

Chevrolet Bolt EV self-driving prototype

Chevrolet Bolt EV self-driving prototype

The autonomous cars feature added cameras and roof-mounted lidar units, as part of the extensive suite of sensors that allows them to "see" their environment.

GM enters the autonomous-driving fray alongside a host of tech companies and other automakers, including its Detroit rivals.

MORE: Autonomous Renault Zoe electric car to be tested in Boston by nuTonomy

Ford is currently testing a fleet of autonomous Fusion Hybrid sedans, and has said it plans to launch a production self-driving car for ride-sharing services by 2021.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) has a partnership with Waymo (the renamed Google self-driving car project) in which the carmaker will supply 100 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid plug-in hybrid minivans converted into prototype self-driving vehicles.


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