General Motors (GM) has begun production of 130 Chevrolet Bolt EV driverless test vehicles at its Orion Township, Mich. plant as it expands its fleet to total 180 models deployed in San Francisco; Scottsdale, Arizona; and Detroit.
GM said it is the first company to assemble self-driving test vehicles in a "mass-production facility" after it started making driverless Chevrolet Bolt EVs in January.
"To achieve what we want from self-driving cars, we must deploy them at scale," said CEO Kyle Vogt of Cruise Automation, GM's driverless division.
The inherent facility of EV production also helps to support GM's mass production claims for the Bolt. This is because ramping up production of EVs for full-volume commercial production is easier than adding capacity for combustion engine cars. Among other things, EV batteries, for example, are much simpler to integrate into cars compared to combustion-engine powertrains.
Meanwhile, Tesla and Audi have begun to mass-produce models packed with Level 2 or more-advanced driverless software and hardware capabilities. These models include Tesla's Model S and soon-to-be-launched Model 3, and the next-generation Audi A8, which will come equipped with Level 3 capabilities that will be activated pending legislation when it goes on sale this summer.
But GM's Cruise Automation unit, of course, remains a frontrunner in driverless development. It has been testing Chevrolet Bolt EVs equipped with self-driving technology on public streets in San Francisco and Scottsdale, Ariz. since June 2016 and on public roads in Warren, Mi. since January 2017.
A video posted earlier this year of an Albatross driverless Chevrolet Bolt test vehicle self-navigating complex driving situations in San Francisco served as proof of Cruise Automation's growing engineering aptitude for self-driving cars.
GM is also laying the groundwork to offer its vehicles with Cruise Automation self-drive technology through ride-sharing firm Lyft, following its $500 million investment in the company. The automotive giant has shown it can make a driverless version of its Chevrolet Bolt EV at its mass-production plant in Orion Township, Mich. — now all it has to do is press the button if and when high-volume of a self-drive vehicles begins at that facility.