Self-Driving Vehicles Inch Toward Mass Production

GM builds 130 autonomous Chevy Bolts on mass production line near Detroit.

The autonomous vehicle took a small step toward viability last week as General Motors announced that it used mass production techniques to finish a batch of 130 Chevy Bolt EVs containing self-driving technology.

The mass production technique involved the addition of cameras, Lidar and other sensors in an automated assembly plant in Orion Township, MI. It may or may not be a first for an autonomous car, but either way, industry observers expect the batch of Bolts to be followed by many more such efforts, from GM and its competitors. “This is what we’re going to be seeing during the next few years – finished vehicles coming off assembly lines with all the automated driving hardware built in already,” Sam Abuelsamid, research analyst for Navigant Research , told Design News .


GM said last week it used mass production techniques to finish construction of 130 autonomous Chevy Bolt EVs. (Source: General Motors)


The 130 new Bolts will join 50 self-driving Bolts released last year to such locales as San Francisco, metro-Detroit and Scottsdale, AZ. Industry experts also expect GM to produce as many as 1,000 more autonomous Bolts later this year or early next. Similarly, Waymo LLC (formerly known as the Google self-driving car project) said in April that it is adding 500 self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans to its fleets.

“We’re going to be seeing the same kinds of numbers – from dozens to hundreds to thousands over the next few years,” Abuelsamid said.

The introductions are part of a grand industry plan to roll out vehicles in the next few years that can pilot themselves without the need for on-board “safety drivers.” Today, all autonomous vehicles deployed in various regions of the country still have drivers on board who monitor the vehicle’s ability to handle given situations.

Most automakers plan to enable their vehicles to reach SAE Level 4 capability in the next five years or so. SAE Level 4 calls for full automation, which means a driver could doze off or even leave the front seat, but only in limited domains. Drivers would have to be able to intervene in certain situations, such heavy snowfall or rain, as specified by the manufacturer.

Last year, Ford Motor Co. stated that it plans to remove the driver controls from some of its cars by 2021. “That means there’s going to be no steering wheel,” former Ford CEO Mark Fields said last August. There’s not going to be a brake pedal and, of course, a driver is not going to be required.”

Abuelsamid predicted this week that other manufacturers may reach the “no controls” point before Ford. “Going forward, as we get to 2019 and 2020, we’re going to see some of the first vehicles built without driver controls,” he told us. Full Level 5 automation – in which the autonomous car can operate in any situation – may not come until 2030, however.

Abuelsamid said the announcements are a reflection of the auto industry’s growing confidence in self-driving technology. But he added that the technology’s ultimate success will depend on


Martin Barr's picture
Would like to see how this vehicle fairs in the winter weather in Detroit. Also, the pot holes are going to be rough on the electronics.

With an inch of snow, the sensors won't have a clue where the road is, and there is no way an autonomous system is going to be able to handle ice.

I miss the days (not that long ago) when I didn't have to click on page 2 to finish the last two sentences of an article. Why that's necessary, is beyond me. I read news articles all the time where I can simply scroll down to the end. I also miss the regular contributions of comments from several members and lack of a character limit. Maybe folks liked the anonymity of before, maybe it's something else, or a combination but I'm extremely disappointed in what has become of this outlet.

Carl Ungvarsky's picture
GM's Orion Twp, MI assembly plant previously assembled the Oldsmobile Aurora. I consider that a fine car in terms of design, performance, features, and quality. Possibly not in terms of reliability, but 4 out of 5 ain't bad. but going forward, it's going to take some time to accept a car with no steering wheel and no brake pedal.

I wonder how easy it will be to program one of these cars on the fly. I for one occasionally like to stop at an interesting yard sale or one of those little 2nd hand stores or fruit stands you see while out for a sunny day drive. with out the brake peddle or steering wheel that kind of spur of the moment stop will be interesting

Forget yard sales or fruit stands, how could it negotiate parking lots, construction, or gas stations even. Driving takes a lot of intuition, like knowing to get out of the way of merging traffic or staying out of blind spots. Automation is never going to work.

Never going to happen. This is like the Emperor's New Clothes, and that any idiot who thinks this could ever work, should be fired for incompetence. The only way it could ever work is if you buried transponder cables in all the lanes, networked all the vehicles, and banned all humans and animals from the roads. And that is never going to happen. How could this possibly work with just an inch of snow? Computers can't even recognize tail lights. GPS mapping is just not reliable.

I have traveled with a system that is a lot like the one Kirk describes. No steering provisions at all, but it did still have a human operator. AND it was able to proceed quite well in both snow and rain. The major flaw is that Amtrack does not always run on time on some routes. AND, I greatly appreciate that we are not limited to short "tweets" like some of those discussion blogs. The tweet mentality is not in the best interest of good conversation.

It seems that there are two different lines of thinking regarding the self driving cars. One line has them being completely autonomous, while the other line insists that all vehicles must be linked to both the nearby vehicles and the infrastructure. So we have an interesting situation developing. It does seem that a vehicle's situation awareness would be much greater with everything communicating, but requiring that suddenly creates many life-critical devices that need to be 100% reliable.

Who is going to pay for this huge array of life-critical devices that must communicate flawlessly at all times and under all conditions? Any organization that can design, produce, and implement them in a cost-effective manner will probably already be creating products for others with larger budgets. In fact, it would be interesting to know if any organization presently produces any product for any use that meets those specifications. Does anybody know of such an organization????

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