SAN FRANCISCO — Cruise, the autonomous vehicle division of General Motors, unveiled an ambitious new vehicle on Tuesday that its executives said was “the beginning of the future beyond the car.”
Emphasis on “beginning.”
The futuristic electric vehicle, called the Cruise Origin, has a long road to travel before any passengers will be able to hail a ride in it. Cruise would not name a time frame for its availability. It provided no details on how many vehicles it planned to produce, or whether it has begun test drives on closed tracks. It has not obtained state or federal regulatory approval to drive on roads.
“Our work is far from done,” Dan Ammann, chief executive of Cruise, said in a presentation.
Cruise emphasized that the Origin is more than just an idea, however. In an interview, Mr. Ammann said that the company would begin producing prototypes of the Cruise Origin and test driving the car “in the near future.”
Referring to the annual consumer electronics show in Las Vegas, he said, “Unlike some things you see at CES, for example, this is not a concept car.”
The event, held in a dark San Francisco warehouse with thumping hip-hop and orange uplighting, represented a coming-out party for the latest autonomous technology company eager to show progress at a moment when excitement around the category is waning.
Four years ago, self-driving hype reached a fever pitch. Automakers struck partnerships with technology companies almost every week. Start-ups raised piles of funding at high valuations.
That year, G.M. plunked down nearly $1 billion to acquire a 40-person start-up in San Francisco called Cruise. The start-up went on to raise billions more in outside funding. Head count swelled to 1,700 workers.
But hype hit reality when testing data made it clear that it would take many more years for self-driving technology to be ready for widespread adoption. Google and Tesla had predicted fully autonomous self-driving cars would be available by 2018, a deadline that passed with little fanfare.
Mr. Ammann introduced the Origin alongside Kyle Vogt, Cruise’s co-founder and president. A room full of “Cruisers,” the company’s term for its employees, cheered them on.
The rectangular-shape vehicle with double sliding doors on each side has no steering wheel or brakes. Inside, it is spacious, with room for six people sitting and facing each other.
Cruise’s plan is not to sell the vehicles but to operate a system of autonomous taxis — essentially, robo-taxis — that can be hailed via an app. It is in a race with Uber, which has an autonomous vehicle division, and Waymo, which is backed by Google’s parent company, Alphabet.
Cruise’s executives said that their vehicle is designed to last for one million miles, far longer than typical cars. “Traditional cars haven’t been designed with that mentality,” Mr. Vogt said in an interview.
Their presentation hinted at a future in which Cruise Origin cars could also transport cargo autonomously.
Mr. Vogt said that unveiling the car could help speed up conversations with regulators.
“Seeing the vehicles in the flesh makes it easier to have these conversations because it’s a little bit less abstract,” he said.
Permits are one hurdle. Another is technology.
Cruise must get its vehicles to the point where their sensors and software can navigate city roads, with all their complicated, unpredictable scenarios, as well as a human driver can.
When asked if it would take as many as five years to make the Cruise Origin a reality, Mr. Vogt said, “I hope not.”
“This is going into production,” he added. “This car is going to happen.”
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