Chevrolet cars are seen at a General Motors dealership. Picture: REUTERS
Chevrolet cars are seen at a General Motors dealership. Picture: REUTERS

Washington — General Motors (GM) is aiming to overtake rivals by launching a large-scale fleet of self-driving taxies by 2019.

The US vehicle giant told an investor call its strategy was based on zero emissions and autonomous technology that would eliminate most crashes.

"If we continue on our current rate of change, we will be ready to deploy this technology in large scale in the most complex environments in 2019," said GM president Dan Ammann in the call on Thursday.

Ammann said GM was betting on autonomous technology, calling it "the biggest business opportunity since the creation of the internet". The plan for a 2019 deployment would likely put GM ahead of rivals such as former Google car unit Waymo, which has begun small-scale trials of autonomous cars, and Uber, which has ordered vehicles from Volvo for deployment between 2019 and 2021.

GM chairperson and CEO Mary Barra said on the same call that the company was planning "the next chapter in our journey in the transformation that is happening in this industry". She said GM "believes in a vision and we are committed to a future where we have zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion".

GM sees autonomous electric cars as a "platform" that will change the economics of car ownership — instead of selling a car for $30,000, the autonomous vehicles will be deployed in car-sharing operations that generate "several hundreds of thousands of dollars", according to Amman.

RBC Capital Markets analyst Joseph Spak said GM’s plan was ambitious.

"The autonomous vehicle ride-sharing opportunity is real and represents a potentially game changing paradigm shift for GM," Spak said in a research note.

"GM believes they are on pace to launch a commercial [autonomous] ride-sharing offering at scale in dense urban areas in the first quarter of 2019 … GM believes first-mover advantage is critical. However, some could argue Waymo has a first-mover advantage as they launched [autonomous vehicle] ride-sharing in Phoenix."


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