GM announced today it has finished making 130 autonomous Chevrolet Bolt test vehicles at its plant in Lake Orion, an achievement that the automaker says will help put it at the forefront of the race to develop and deploy self-driving cars.
Although they are only in the testing stage, the automaker said it is now capable of mass producing autonomous vehicles, a milestone that puts it at the forefront of the race towards developing and selling driverless cars to the general public.
CEO and Chairman Mary Barra said GM is the only automaker capable of building autonomous a high-volume autonomous vehicles in its assembly plant.
"The autonomous vehicles you see here today are purpose built, self-driving test vehicles," Barra said before several hundred employees gathered at the plant this morning. "The level of integration in these vehicles is on par with any of our production vehicles, and that is a great advantage. In fact, no other company today has the unique and necessary combination of technology, engineering and manufacturing ability to build autonomous vehicles at scale."
The version of the Chevrolet Bolt autonomous vehicles unveiled today at the company's Orion Assembly Plant are the second generation of near-level four autonomous vehicles. They are equipped with the latest array of equipment, including LIDAR, cameras, radar, sensors and other hardware designed and built by GM and its suppliers.
The new version of the self-driving Bolts must still be driven with a person behind the wheel who is alert and ready to take control if necessary.
The white Bolt displayed by GM today can be easily spotted as an autonomous test car because of a roof rack with silver and black lidar modules and cameras, side-mounted articulating white radar units that look like two small boxes stacked on top of each other that are used to monitor cross traffic and extra cameras mounted on the front.
“There are even a couple of cameras that are dedicated just to seeing traffic lights to make sure you don’t run red lights,” said Kyle Vogt, CEO of Cruise Automation.
The automaker had already built about 50 Chevrolet Bolt autonomous vehicles that were retrofitted with the specialized sensors needed to drive themselves. That gives the automaker a total of 180 vehicles it can test and refine.
GM began testing the first generation of its self-driving Chevrolet Bolts last June in Detroit, Scottsdale, Ariz. and San Francisco. Barra said testing of the new version of the self-driving Bolts will begin soon.
GM began making the second-generation Chevrolet Bolt in January and now has enough vehicles to test and learn from the vehicles, said Andrew Farah, the chief technical officer for the self-driving Bolt. Farah said GM wants to learn from this version of the vehicle before it begins making more of them.
GM has been aggressively working to put together the pieces of the puzzle it needs to be a leader when it comes to driverless vehicles.
In 2016, the automaker invested $581 million last year to acquire Cruise Automation, a developer of the software necessary to guide self-driving cars and invested $500 million in ride-sharing company Lyft.
GM is in the process of hiring 1,163 additional engineers and other employees to Cruise Automation and is moving the company to a new headquarters in San Francisco.
And earlier this year, GM CFO vowed that the automaker would run its autonomous vehicle development like a Silicon Valley start-up, sinking $600 million annually, or $150 million per quarter into the effort.
Barra also said in December 2016 the automaker would be the first company to build autonomous test vehicles in a mass-production assembly plant announced it had picked Orion Assembly, where it builds the Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicle, as the location.
The Chevrolet Bolt or Chevrolet Bolt EV is a front-engine, five-door all-electric subcompact hatchback with an all-electric range of 238 miles. The electric version of the Bolt has been highly acclaimed, earning the award as the North American Car of the Year, Motor Trend Car of the Year, Detroit Free Press Car of the Year and other awards.