gm driverless car

GM considers letting customers design their own cars

Image credit: reuters

General Motors (GM) has said it could introduce a new service in the future that would allow customers to dictate the design of their vehicles as the company transitions towards driverless technology.

Speaking at Citi’s Car of the Future conference in New York, Mike Abelson, GM’s vice president of global strategy, said that custom-designed vehicles could be owned or leased by individual customers and used in peer-to-peer car-sharing applications.

Unlike many other car-makers which are looking at merely manufacturing the next generation of driverless vehicles, GM is attempting to develop a robotaxi service that would rival the likes of Uber and Lyft.

GM is “thinking about several models” to drive revenue from self-driving cars, according to Abelson, including “purpose-built vehicles” that do not look like conventional cars.

While GM initially is using specially modified versions of the Chevrolet Bolt EV for its robotaxi fleet in 2019, the automaker’s next wave of driverless vehicles will do away with manual driver controls and could feature different seating arrangements.

The company is already making headway on these plans and even asked the US government in January to approve a driverless car that does not feature a brake pedal, an accelerator pedal or a steering wheel. 

The design of the vehicles would be continually adjusted to provide customers with “a more appealing experience,” Abelson said.

Others have speculated that bonnets could shorten, while passengers sit under a glass bubble.

Early leaders in deploying self-driving cars, such as GM and Alphabet’s Waymo, “will have the opportunity to take a lead in new business models that will drive their companies’ profitability,” said John Hoffecker, vice chairman of consultants AlixPartners.

Abelson said GM believes personally owned self-driving vehicles “will be a big business in the future,” especially in sparsely populated rural areas where ride-sharing may not reach for years.

GM’s commercial ride-sharing business is expected to drive down the cost of self-driving cars in the future, Abelson said.

Affordability is seen as the biggest challenge in extending ownership of self-driving cars to individuals. But they might elect to put their vehicles into a peer-to-peer sharing service, such as those proposed by Tesla and GM, and share revenue with the companies that operate those services.

Hoffecker said costs are “going down dramatically,” to the point where individuals should be able to buy self-driving cars by 2023-25.

Yesterday a report from investment bank UBS predicted that by 2030 Waymo will become the largest player in the driverless car sector. 

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