GM Will Introduce Hands-Free, Foot-Free Driving in 2017 Cadillac

(Los Angeles Times/MCT) -

General Motors plans to start selling cars that can drive partially in an auto-pilot mode and that can exchange speed and safety data with similarly equipped vehicles.

The first features are expected to show up in high-end Cadillac vehicles for the 2017 model year — in about two years — but over time will move down market into GM’s other brands.

“Everyone recognizes that when cars can talk to each other and share information about speed, direction, operating performance and more, we’ll save lives, save time and save money, as well,” said Mary Barra, GM’s chief executive, in a recent speech to the Intelligent Transport Systems World Congress in Detroit.

Barra talked about two initiatives the automaker has launched to commercialize “intelligent” car technology.

GM is to offer what it is calling “Super Cruise” in a new Cadillac model that Barra didn’t name.

The system will allow drivers to switch the vehicle into a semi-automated mode in which it will automatically keep the car in its lane, making necessary steering adjustments, and autonomously trigger braking and speed control to maintain a safe distance from other vehicles.

“With Super Cruise, when there’s a congestion alert on roads like California’s Santa Monica Freeway, you can let the car take over and drive hands-free and feet-free through the worst stop-and-go traffic around,” Barra said. “And if the mood strikes you on the high-speed road from Barstow, California, to Las Vegas, you can take a break from the wheel and pedals and let the car do the work.”

Other automakers, including Mercedes-Benz, Acura and Subaru, have started to put self-piloting functions in vehicles already on the U.S. market. They use technology similar to what will go into the Cadillac model, but aren’t as expansive.

Both the Mercedes and Acura vehicles, for example, will automatically keep a car in a lane for a short period of time but will warn the driver to take control of the steering wheel after five to 10 seconds. The vehicles also have sensors that allow their cruise-control systems to slow down and then speed up to adjust to traffic conditions and maintain a safe distance behind a car in front.

GM’s rivals also are working to develop their own partial auto-pilot systems.

Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan Motor Co. and Renault SA, has said that by the end of 2016, Nissan will start to market cars that can take over some driving functions, including a “traffic-jam pilot” that enables the vehicle to safely drive autonomously on congested highways. The Japanese automaker also plans to introduce cars that can autonomously negotiate hazards and change lanes by 2018.

However, “GM is pushing the boundaries here,” said Thilo Koslowski, auto analyst at Gartner Inc. “This is how the evolution to fully autonomous vehicles will occur.”

GM and other automakers will have to see how consumers take to these automated driving functions, Koslowski said, and there will be other questions, such as how insurance companies will deal with these cars. Some functions, such as systems that alert drivers to potential collisions and trigger the brakes, are already proving to reduce crashes, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.