General Motors has announced it will begin manufacturing autonomous vehicles by 2019. Since purchasing Cruise Automation in 2016, GM has invested heavily into self-driving cars. However, its Chevrolet Bolt-based Cruise AV has only served as a testbed for the technology. That will change next year when the Orion Township assembly plant in Michigan starts building examples for commercial use.

If so, that would make General Motors the first company to sell an autonomous vehicle. However, it's not entirely clear if that's the ultimate goal. Thus far, GM has only said the autos will enter into a "ride-sharing environment" where the vehicles can be managed in a fleet - perhaps something akin to Uber.

Obviously, the analogy is as accurate as it is unfortunate. Uber recently suspended autonomous testing after one of its vehicles fatally struck a pedestrian earlier this week. While GM's product planning can hardly be faulted for the goings-on at another company, the collision could see the general public wonder if production Cruise AVs are ready to take over the road.

"We're continuing to make great progress on our plans to commercialize in 2019," said GM President Dan Ammann in a statement. "Our Orion and Brownstown teams have proven experience in building high-quality self-driving test vehicles and battery packs, so they are well-prepared to produce the Cruise AV."

The company has already built over 200 test examples of the model and over $100 million will be invested into the plants to prepare them for autonomous assembly. General Motors hasn't stated any production goals but noted it's already building the rooftop modules that house sensor arrays essential for operations.

Brownstone will continue handling the sensor modules and battery assembly as Orion gets a dedicated production line for the autonomous cars. Assembly of the Chevrolet Bolt and Sonic will continue at the site, as well.

GM has showcased its Cruise AV without a steering wheel in the past, generating some light criticism for its underperformance in real world environments. The vehicle seemed to have difficulty navigating construction-laden areas. Still, most agree GM's autonomous tech is among the best currently in existence - roughly on par with Waymo, which is the only company currently running self-driving vehicles with passengers and no driver.

GM previously petitioned the Department of Transportation for permission to operate cars with no human driver and no manual controls on public roads. For now, current Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards specifically call for manual controls. General Motors says if it does not receive the special dispensations on controls, its vehicles will still meet existing standards.

Meanwhile, the AV Start Act, crafted to help push through these changes, is currently being held up by a handful of concerned senators. Their primary concerns involve data protection, privacy, establishing what defines an autonomous vehicle, and ensuring any mechanical exemptions made for self-driving cars does not jeopardize public safety. If the bill passes, automakers would be able to test them with fewer regulations and market them directly to customers before updated federal safety regulations can be established. It would also prohibit individual states from adopting their own rules on autonomous vehicles.

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