DETROIT - General Motors plans to start selling by 2016 high end cars that can drive partially in an auto-pilot mode and also exchange speed and safety data with similarly equipped vehicles.
Unveiling plans to commercialize "intelligent" car technology at the Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) World Congress in Detroit on Sunday, GM's chief executive Mary Barra said initially the new high tech features are expected to show up in "Super Cruise " Cadillac vehicles for the 2017 model year, which will start selling in 2017. But subsequently, it will be incorporated in other lower models.
"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."
"Everyone recognizes that when cars can talk to each other and share information ( using vehicle-to-vehicle or V2V technology) about speed, direction, operating performance and more, we'll save lives, save time and save money as well," said, Barra.
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.
"I'm convinced customers will embrace V2V and automated driving technologies for one simple reason: they are the answer to everyday problems that people want solved," Barra said.
The new concept car technology is being unveiled by GM after a string of recalls that has dogged the company for the past one year. GM's technology drive coincides with efforts of its rivals Mercedes-Benz, Acura and Subaru besides internet search giant Google working to develop their own partial auto-pilot systems.
While GM is still developing the technology, both Mercedes and Acura vehicles have started introducing self-piloting functions in vehicles already on the U.S. market.
Unlike GM, its rivals are looking at providing affordable technology upgrade that will help keep a car in a lane but after a few seconds will warn the driver to take control of the steering wheel.
Sensors in the vehicle will help the driver to adjust to traffic conditions and maintain a safe distance behind a car in front.
By the end of 2016, Nissan too plans to start marketing 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.
In contrast, Google is working on a futuristic, fully-automated self-driving car.
Earlier this year,. GM's product development chief Mark Reuss was candid when he said Google could become a "serious competitive threat" to the automotive industry if the technology takes off.
At the same time Reuss foresees a fully automated vehicle facing some problems getting regulatory clearances. "I don't think you're going to see an autonomous vehicle take over the city anytime soon," he said.
Thilo Koslowski, auto analyst at Gartner Inc , opined that GM and other automakers will have to see how consumers take to these automated driving functions, and how insurance companies will deal with these cars. "GM is pushing the boundaries here. This is how the evolution to fully autonomous vehicles will occur," Koslowski said.