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GM to become first automaker to roll out "connected" vehicles

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

General Motors is taking the lead in producing cars that can almost drive themselves.

The "driver-assist" and "vehicle-to-vehicle" technology enables cars to communicate with other cars and roadside sensors. That should help drivers avoid accidents and reduce traffic congestion.

GM CEO Mary Barra announced Sunday the automaker will begin offering V2V as an option in the Lansing-built Cadillac CTS starting with the 2017 model year.   

Barra says the "Super Cruise" system would allow people to drive long distances with the car doing much of the work. But GM says it's working on a system to make sure drivers still pay attention.

Barra says the future success of V2V depends on the auto industry and governments embracing the technology.

“To get to fully autonomous (vehicles) and all the steps in between and creating a safer driving experience for our customers, we’ve got to do it together,” Barra told reporters after her announcement.

Barra made the announcement at the21st World Congress on Intelligent Transportation Systems. About 10,000 attendees from 65 countries are in Detroit for the convention. 

Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
The 21st World Congress on Intelligent Transportation Systems is bringing about 10,000 leading technology experts to Detroit this week.

This auto show is more for auto geeks than gearheads. Safety, not speed, is being showcased. 

Scott Belcher is the president of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America. He says the technology being discussed at this week’s conference has the potential of reducing avoidable auto accidents by up to 80%.

“That’s bigger than seat belts. It’s bigger than electronic stability control. It’s bigger than air bags,” says Belcher. “It’s probably the biggest safety technology we’ve seen.”

Belcher adds this is not theoretical. This technology will be widespread in a couple years.

The state of Michigan is already taking steps in implementing the technology needed to make autonomous vehicles work.

Kirk Steudle is the director of the Michigan Department of Transportation.

He says the state is building off a pilot project in Ann Arbor, which has been providing data to assist vehicle-to-vehicle-enabled cars communicate with one another. 

He says in the next few years they plan to have V2V technology in place along stretches of major interstates in southeast Michigan. 

“From where we started a couple years ago,” says Steudle, “the initial costs have dropped significantly,” though he declines to give a total cost estimate for the project.

But in the end, the success of autonomous cars will depend on the willingness of motorists to take their hands off the wheel.

“Once customers understand the benefit, they’ll embrace it,” says GM CEO Mary Barra. “But it’s critical that it works flawlessly every single time.”

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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