GM says it's mass-producing cars without steering wheels

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GM's self-driving division, Cruise Automation, unveiled the auto Friday, which features no steering wheel or gas and brake pedals. Instead, the auto has several interior screens that passengers can use to communicate with the vehicle.

GM wants to control its own self-driving fleet partly because of the tremendous revenue potential it sees in selling related services, from e-commerce to infotainment, to consumers riding in those vehicles.

The petition filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration seeks permission to deploy the autonomous cars, built on the Chevrolet Bolt EV platform, next year.

This will be one of the first self-driving vehicles in commercial passenger service and among the first to do away with manual controls for steering, brakes and throttle.

Other companies, from Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL] to Alphabet Inc's (GOOGL.O) Waymo, have been testing self-driving vehicle prototypes in limited ride sharing applications, but have been less explicit than GM in announcing plans for commercial robo-taxi services. GM's petition with DOT is meant to gain a waiver or exemption for their wheel-less vehicle. That's the maximum number the government will now allow for each manufacturer. Now all autonomous vehicle rules require a human to be behind the wheel during testing on public roads.

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Cruise also released a safety report Friday detailing the steps it takes to ensure its vehicles are ready to drive on public roads.

GM's autonomous test cars were in 22 accidents in California past year, according to data from the state's Department of Motor Vehicles. It has previously pointed to the challenges of testing in dense urban areas.

GM will run the cars in a test batch for a ride-sharing programme starting in 2019, and they won't be without a safety net.

The Detroit automaker is gearing up to meet its deadline for deploying a driverless ride-hailing service next year in a yet-to-be-named city. Arizona is one possible destination, as Cruise is already testing some of its other vehicles there, and the state's regulations are friendly to autonomous vehicles. Current US auto-safety standards contain several provisions that act as de facto requirements that vehicles have driver controls such as a steering wheel and foot pedals. Waymo announced in November that it was removing test drivers from the front seat.

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