General Motors on Friday said on a conference call for investors that its Cruise Automation self-driving car subsidiary is now using more advanced test vehicles that retain steering wheels and gas and brake pedals.
The latest Cruise test cars have more advanced and less obtrusive sensors.
The automaker said that the next generation of its autonomous test cars forgo the conventional controls needed for a human backup driver, but it's waiting on government approval before it can test a car without a steering wheel on public roads.
Cruise Automation Chief Executive Officer Dan Amman said that the company's long-term goal as a ride-share provider is to reduce its operating costs to $1 per mile, at which point he said Cruise vehicles reach business viability.
Amman did not say if Cruise will stick to its previously stated goal of deploying a commercial self-driving car program by the end of 2019. He also didn't detail a timeline for GM's purpose-built autonomous vehicle.
“Why are we working on this stuff so early? Because we think there’s going to be a really steep and really long learning curve, and we will be better off getting started on it,” Amman said.
Cruise, which GM acquired in May 2016, has grown considerably. GM said Friday that its self-driving car division has grown from 40 to 1,100 employees and has attracted outside investors such as Honda.
Separately, GM said that it plans to make its Super Cruise system, which allows for limited hands-free driving, available on its entire lineup of Cadillac vehicles by the end of 2020 in the U.S. Super Cruise is unique in that it uses an in-car monitoring system to ensure that drivers keep their eyes on the road but allows for hands-free driving in certain highway situations. GM also said it will use the next generation of the Super Cruise system, but the company didn't go into detail about what that will entail.
Currently, the advanced Level 2 self-driving system is similar in concept to Tesla's AutoPilot system. It first became available last year in the 2018 CT6 sedan. It uses various sensors and cameras that read the road ahead and control the car's braking, acceleration, and steering.