GM unit’s self-driving taxis undergo US safety investigation
The top federal auto safety agency revealed on Friday that it had opened a preliminary investigation into cars a division of General Motors was testing as driverless taxis in San Francisco.
The agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said in a filing on its website that it had received reports that self-driving taxis operated by GM’s Cruise division had come to rest on the roads, creating obstacles for other vehicles. The agency also said GM reported three incidents in which cruise vehicles suddenly slowed down and were struck from behind.
The agency said its Defects Investigation Office would attempt to determine the extent and severity of both types of incidents.
Regulators are increasingly scrutinizing self-driving and semi-autonomous cars, and automakers’ claims about them. The most high-profile investigation by the auto safety agency in this area involves Tesla’s self-driving technology. Regulators are investigating at least 14 crashes involving Tesla cars driven on autopilot that have left 19 people dead.
No deaths or serious injuries were reported in the cruisers, but the Motor Safety Agency said the vehicles could potentially put people at risk. When cruise taxis stop unexpectedly, they “may strand vehicle passengers in dangerous places, such as traffic lanes or intersections, and become an unexpected obstacle for other road users”, a the agency said in its filing. “These downtimes may increase the risk to departing passengers. In addition, immobilization may cause other road users to perform sudden or dangerous maneuvers to avoid colliding with the immobilized Cruise vehicle.
The investigation involves 242 vehicles and is the first step before the agency forces GM to recall vehicles.
This year, Cruise began offering self-driving taxi rides in part of San Francisco and during low-traffic nighttime hours.
The company’s cars have “drove nearly 700,000 fully autonomous miles in an extremely complex urban environment with zero injuries or life-threatening fatalities,” Cruise spokesman Drew Pusateri said in a statement. “There is always a balance between healthy regulatory scrutiny and the innovation we desperately need to save lives, which is why we will continue to cooperate fully with NHTSA or any other regulator to achieve this common goal,” he said. he added.
Cruise was recently licensed to expand service to the city’s downtown and operate 24 hours a day. The division is preparing to expand operations to Austin, Texas and Phoenix.
GM and other auto and technology companies have spent billions of dollars developing self-driving systems in hopes of bringing taxi rides, deliveries and trucking services to consumers and other businesses. Waymo, which is owned by Google’s parent company, has been working on the technology for more than a decade and offers driverless taxis in and around Phoenix. The company said on Friday it began offering driverless taxi rides in San Francisco after receiving approval from California regulators.
In a one-day presentation to investors last month, GM chief financial officer Paul Jacobson said the company believes Cruise could become a $50 billion company by 2030. “Cruise actually integral part and will expand to other cities,” he said. “They are making very good progress.”
But progress has been much slower than originally expected, and some automakers and investors have been reluctant to invest more in the technology because it may not generate significant sales or profits in years to come. In October, Ford Motor and Volkswagen announced that they would end Argo AI, the self-driving car company in which they had invested.
Cade Metz contributed report.
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