Chevrolet Cruise AV self-driving car
How comfortable would you be in a taxi or car-service vehicle that had no steering wheel, accelerator or brake pedals?
That's the question prompted by a photo that has already produced some subconscious anxiety among at least auto writers.
How the public will react remains to be seen, but they'll get their chance next year if GM's Cruise AV goes into production as planned.
The company released a photo on Friday showing the interior of a Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car without any of the controls used by a human driver, dubbing it the Cruise AV.
And, GM said, it has filed a safety petition with the Department of Transportation seeking permission to put the fourth generation of Cruise AV into production next year.
In essence, GM is asking for waivers from more than a dozen motor-vehicle safety standards that don't apply to autonomous cars without manual controls.
Chevrolet Bolt EV Cruise Automation test mule in San Francisco
For instance, the current (and voluminous) Federal Motor-Vehicle Safety Standards document assumes a steering wheel that contains an airbag for the driver.
GM's submission explains how it will provide airbag protection for all Cruise AV occupants in the absence of a steering wheel.
The vehicle anticipated to go into production is actually the fourth generation of the self-driving Bolt EV, following the unveiling of the third generation just last October.
About 50 test vehicles from that generation have been undergoing tests in a geographically restricted area of downtown San Francisco.
The test riders are employees of Cruise Automation, the self-driving vehicle software company GM bought in March 2016—reputedly for $1 billion or more—using an in-house service called Cruise Anywhere.
GM has announced, as Motor Trend notes in its coverage of the FMVSS application, that testing will expand to Phoenix early this year and New York City before the end of 2018.
One of 130 second-generation self-driving Chevrolet Bolt EV electric cars, with GM CEO Mary Barra
Those cities are expected to add new and different challenges for the self-driving car. Testing within GM's own properties, and later on public roads in Michigan, has been underway since 2016.
Besides the absence of a steering wheel, pedals, and other controls for the missing driver, the Cruise AV adds numerous sensors including the pricey but crucial Lidar that can be seen protruding from the rooftop bar.
Specifically, the car contains 21 radar sensors, 16 cameras, and no fewer than five lidar units, and runs on self-driving software developed by Cruise and GM.
It also features aids for the vision- and hearing-impaired, including the ability to close its own doors. That could prove of use for forgetful ride-sharing passengers as well.
The self-driving Bolt EV—perhaps to be known simply as the 2020 Cruise AV in official documents—will almost surely not be sold to the public.
Sales of the conventional electric Chevy Bolt EV will continue and likely grow, along with at least two other long-range battery-electric models on the same underpinnings that GM has said it will launch by 2020.
But ownership of the autonomous electric Cruise AVs is likely to stay either with GM and perhaps its Maven ride-sharing service—or the much larger Uber competitor Lyft, in which it owns a stake.
EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this article referred to the Cruise AV as a Chevrolet model. While it is based on the Chevrolet Bolt EV, it actually has no branding and is not part of the Chevy lineup. We have corrected the article.