GM unveiled the Cadillac Personal Autonomous Vehicle concept at CES 2021 in January.


DETROIT – Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, expects the automaker to bring self-driving vehicles to consumers later this decade.

While autonomous vehicles for delivery and hail services are currently undergoing rigorous testing, manufacturing for retail customers is not a priority for automakers because the technology required for the systems is prohibitively expensive.

“I believe there is still a lot to be done later in the decade, but I believe we will have personal autonomous vehicles,” she told investors on Wednesday during the company’s earnings call for the first quarter.

It did not specifically state that GM would sell such vehicles directly to consumers. It could lease them or offer a subscription service to customers, as it did previously for Cadillac vehicles. A GM spokesman said the company had no further comment at this time.

Barra’s comments come after GM unveiled a personal autonomous vehicle concept car for its Cadillac brand in January. The vehicle was based on the Origin, an autonomous shuttle from the majority subsidiary Cruise.

GM is taking a two-pronged approach to such systems. Cruise leads the development of fully autonomous vehicles as the automaker expands its advanced Super Cruise system with driver assistance to 22 vehicles by 2023. Barra said the goal of Super Cruise is to enable hands-free calling in 95% of driving conditions.

“Both avenues are very important because the technology we are using for vehicles today, I believe, makes them safer and excites customers and gives us the opportunity to generate subscription income,” she said on Wednesday. “And then the ultimate work we do at Cruise, which is completely autonomous, really opens up more opportunities than I think we can online today.”

Super Cruise currently enables hands-free calling on more than 200,000 miles of pre-mapped highways in the United States and Canada. Other systems, particularly Tesla’s autopilot, offer greater functionality but require the driver to “check in” by touching the steering wheel.

Key differences between Super Cruise and Autopilot include a driver-side infrared camera for monitoring attention and the pre-mapped roads that work with radar, sensors and cameras on board to drive the vehicle.

Commercializing autonomous vehicles has been far more difficult than many predicted a few years ago.

In 2018, GM announced plans to start hail drives in 2019 using self-driving vehicles with no manual controls such as steering wheels and pedals. These plans to conduct further testing have been indefinitely delayed.

In April 2019, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the automaker would be shipping a car without a steering wheel within two years. However, the company has not updated these plans. Tesla didn’t respond to an email looking for a comment.

Tesla is currently testing a next generation of its system, marketed as a premium “self-drive” option for $ 10,000. Only some owners get access to the beta version of the self-driving system. Despite the name, Tesla has told California-based DMV that the system is not fully autonomous, according to correspondence between the company and the agency received by CNBC and other media outlets.

Last year, GM confirmed plans for a system called “Ultra Cruise” but has not released details of next-generation technology.

– CNBC’s Lora Kolodny contributed to this report.