"This business is potentially bigger than our current core business", GM CFO Chuck Stevens told analysts as the company unveiled its strategy for autonomous-drive vehicles.
GM said at an investor presentation that based on its current rate of change, it expects "commercial launch at scale" of the autonomous vehicles in congested cities in 2019. Instead of testing its vehicles on a closed course or in a "simple suburban setting", Wert said, the company has opted to test the vehicles in an environment that resembles where they'll actually be deployed.
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The company said vehicles will not have human backup drivers.
GM has enjoyed a recent surge in its share price, as investors bet on its plans for self-driving and electric cars, although the company's profit is driven entirely by demand for trucks and SUVs in North America, and its growing sales in China.
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Delphi, an automotive supplier, has said it expects commercial vehicles to be using its autonomous system in limited areas in 2019.
The Cruise Automation team is now testing its self-driving Chevy Bolt - with a human backup - in Detroit, Phoenix and San Francisco. Delphi recently bought autonomous software startup NuTonomy and would also partner with BMW AG, chipmaker Intel Corp and camera and visual recognition software maker Mobileye. By getting out there first, GM hopes to ride a rapid cost and technology improvement curve that will leave the competition far behind.... An employee in the back seat will be able to stop the vehicle by pushing a button but won't be able to steer the vehicle.
Google's Waymo, German automaker Daimler and Ford are also developing self-driving cars that would be available for ride-sharing services.
The shift toward autonomous ride-hailing services is motivated in-part by the financial benefits of the plan, according to GM President Don Ammann.
GM, like rival automakers and technology leaders including Alphabet Inc, has poured billions into autonomous vehicle research, although fully self-driving cars are a work in progress.
The analyst said it made business sense for the different mobility services such as Lyft and Uber to shoulder initial expenses for the costly autonomous and electric vehicles.