AFTER MORE THAN a century making vehicles for humans to drive, General Motors has ripped the heart out of its latest ride, and is now holding the grisly spectacle up for all the world to see: A car with no steering wheel. And it plans to put a fleet of these newfangled things to work in a taxi-like service, somewhere in the US, next year.

And no, this robo-chariot, a modified all-electric Chevrolet Bolt, doesn’t have pedals either. This is GM’s truly driverless debut, a car that will have to handle the world on its own. No matter what happens, you, dear human passenger, cannot help it now.

Terrifying? Maybe. But it’s also a major step in GM’s aggressive bid to maintain its big dog status as the auto industry evolves away from individual ownership and flesh-and-blood drivers. And it’s just the beginning for the Detroit stalwart. “We’ve put together four generations of autonomous vehicles over the course of 18 months,” says Dan Ammann, GM’s president. “You can safely assume that the fourth generation won’t be the last.”

While Waymo, Uber, and others in this space are building webs of partnerships to deploy their autonomous tech, GM is going for vertical integration. It spent a reported $600 million on Cruise Automation, and put the San Francisco–based startup in charge of its effort to develop fully autonomous vehicles. It bought its own lidar manufacturer: Strobe, a Pasadena-based outfit GM thinks could cut sensor costs (a big problem, especially for lidar) by 99 percent.

To lay the foundation for a business that doesn’t rely on selling cars to people, it launched a car-sharing service called Maven. And it has flexed its manufacturing muscles (perhaps its biggest advantage coming in), configuring its Orion assembly plant north of Detroit to build this latest generation of robocar. Indeed, GM is counting on its manufacturing prowess to give it an edge in this new world. “Either you can do that or you don’t have a business,” says Kyle Vogt, who founded and heads Cruise.

And yes, now is the time for this autonomy stuff to really become a business. The technology has made massive leaps in recent years, and not just chez Cruise: Waymo, which started as Google’s self-driving car, plans to deploy similarly driverless cars in the next few months. These systems aren’t perfect, and they won’t work everywhere or all the time. But the companies behind them are ready to press ahead.

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