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Autonomy will come 'sooner than you think' says GM CEO Barra

Mary Barra, chief executive officer of General Motors Co. (GM), unveils the Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicle (EV) during the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Mary Barra, chief executive officer of General Motors Co. (GM), unveils the Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicle (EV) during the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Autonomous cars from General Motors will come sooner than people think, says Mary Barra, the CEO of the Detroit automaker.

Speaking on a conference call with analysts on Friday, Barra said GM is making fast progress as it tests its cars in various cities around the country.

General Motors released quarterly earnings that beat estimates by a wide margin on Friday morning.

Much of the attention on autonomous driving has centered around efforts from Silicon Valley companies, such as Apple, Google and Tesla, but established automakers have been making investments to beef up their own efforts.

"We continue to make very strong progress with Cruise Automation," Barra said referring to the autonomous technology company GM acquired in 2016. She added that GM is running Cruise "as a startup," and giving the team responsibility not only for developing the technology but also strategies for commercializing it.

While the company has not floated a date for when consumers should expect autonomous cars, "I think it will be sooner than most people think" and said people should expect to hear "more from us as the year evolves on that."

The company has been testing all-electric Chevrolet Bolts equipped with autonomous technology in San Francisco, Scottsdale, Arizona, and Detroit.

"Downtown San Francisco is one of the most complex environments," she said, and the progress GM is making as it tests autonomous cars on various routes in the city "gives me confidence that we are on a very good path."

Barra said the company is being "aggressive" on both autonomy and electrification and said it is leveraging GM's OnStar service, which she said gives the company a 20-year lead in having connectivity in cars and "unlocking data monetization opportunities."