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In the rapidly developing battle among automakers and tech companies over who will be the first to deploy self-driving cars for everyday use by the public, General Motors is sending a message: Its subsidiary Cruise Automation is quickly learning what it takes to put autonomous-drive vehicles on the road.
"We are making rapid progress toward taking the driver out of the car," said Kyle Vogt, CEO and founder of Cruise Automation.
Vogt held a 15-minute conference call with reporters Tuesday, just a day after an article said GM's competitor Waymo will launch a self-driving ride-sharing service this fall.
Waymo has been testing its autonomous-drive technology in a number of places around the U.S., but according to the article in The Information, the Google subsidiary will limit the capabilities of its ride-share service and offer it only in a suburb of Phoenix.
While GM has not yet said when Cruise Automation will deploy autonomous-drive vehicles for the public to use, Vogt said his company's driverless cars will be ready for complex traffic conditions found in urban areas. Mainly because Cruise Automation has logged millions of miles testing its cars in San Francisco.
"Driving in San Francisco is almost nothing like driving in the suburbs, or other places where self-driving cars are tested," said Vogt.
To back up his point, Vogt said autonomous drive cars in urban areas have to pass double-parked vehicles 24.3 times more often than those tested in a suburb.
In addition, Cruise Automation vehicles interact with emergency vehicles (police, fire, ambulances, etc.) 47 times more often in the city than on suburban streets.
When asked point blank if he was saying Cruise Automation's testing of cars on city streets was superior to Waymo's test drives on suburban streets, Vogt simply said: "I'm saying there's almost no comparison between driving in an urban environment and driving in a suburban one."
Shares of General Motors have surged to a post-IPO high following upgrades and bullish remarks by several analysts, including Deutsche Bank.
In a note upgrading GM, analyst Rod Lache wrote, "GM's AV's will be ready for commercial deployment, without human drivers, much sooner than widely expected (within quarters, not years)."