The 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV is a crucial car for General Motors in more ways than one.

With an EPA-rated 238-mile range and $37,495 base price (before federal, state, and local incentives), the Bolt EV considered a groundbreaking electric-car game changer.

But the Chevy hatchback is also GM's main platform for self-driving car development.

DON'T MISS: GM releases second Chevy Bolt EV autonomous driving video

GM subsidiary Cruise Automation is already testing prototype autonomous Bolt EV electric cars on public roadsand their numbers are about to grow.

The automaker will deploy "thousands" of self-driving Bolt EVs in concert with Lyft next year, according to Reuters.

This may be the largest test of fully-autonomous cars by a major automaker before 2020, when certain firms will begin ramping up efforts for autonomous production cars, the news service noted.

Chevrolet Bolt EV self-driving prototype

Chevrolet Bolt EV self-driving prototype

Most of Bolt EV autonomous prototypes will be tested by Lyft in ride-sharing service in several states, according to the report.

GM invested $500 million in Lyft last year, and offers low-cost, short-term rentals to Lyft drivers through its Maven brand.

Earlier this month, Maven added the Bolt EV to its Los Angeles-area car-sharing fleet, and will make it available to Lyft drivers through the Lyft Express Drive program as well.

ALSO SEE: Electric Chevy Bolt EV will be GM's first autonomous car (Dec 2016)

Maven itself could eventually deploy self-driving Bolt EVs, but GM reportedly has no plans to sell the autonomous cars to individual customers.

That's a similar approach to Detroit rival Ford, which plans to put a self-driving car into production in 2021, but will only offer it to ride-sharing services.

Confining self-driving cars to ride-sharing services reduces the number of variables to be accounted for, allowing for a more controlled deployment of what is a new, complex, and controversial technology.

Chevrolet Bolt EV self-driving prototype

Chevrolet Bolt EV self-driving prototype

The combination of autonomous driving and ride sharing is also viewed as financially lucrative, because removing human drivers from the equation potentially reduces the cost of operating such a service.

Cruise Automation began testing the prototype autonomous Bolt EVs on the streets of San Francisco and Scottsdale, Arizona, last year, as well as GM's Technical Center campus in Warren, Michigan.

MORE: Chevy Bolt EV electric car to be GM-Lyft self-driving car testbed (May 2016)

GM has already said it will expand the testing program to public roads in its home state, including the streets of Detroit.

All self-driving Bolt EV prototypes will be built on the same assembly line in Orion Township, Michigan, as conventional versions of the electric car, GM CEO Mary Barra said in December.


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