GM plans large scale launch

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The company said vehicles will not have human backup drivers.

Some of GM's share surge has come from investors betting on its investments in self-driving and electric cars, although the company's profits are driven entirely by demand for trucks and SUVs in North America, and its growing sales in China.

Take away driver costs and the rates could drop to below $1 a mile, said Kyle Vogt, chief executive officer of Cruise Automation, the San Francisco-based unit that develops the software for GM's self-driving cars.

"The return on invested capital will be significantly higher than what we're seeing in the core business", said Stevens. Once they're on the road, the vehicles' computers will constantly learn and improve. And it's not quite clear yet whether the automaker will be first.

Google's Waymo division will soon start testing self-driving vehicles in Phoenix without a backup driver in the front seat. It announced in November that it would launch a self-driving robo-taxi service in suburban Phoenix, carrying its first passengers in the next few months.

Abuelsamid said it makes business sense for mobility services like Uber and Lyft to shoulder the initial expenses of costly electric and autonomous vehicles.

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Major automakers as well as technology leaders like Alphabet Inc and Intel Corp have poured billions into autonomous vehicle research, although fully self-driving cars are a work in progress.

Barra said the biggest opportunities for self-driving cars would initially be on the East and West Coasts.

Vogt said those issues would improve over time and that the victor of the self-driving vehicle race would be the one that first launches at "massive scale" rather than just being the first to market a model.

GM expects autonomous cars to continually generate revenue over their entire lives because they will be used in ride-hailing, rather than sold to individual customers outright.

Tesla, which now sells electric cars with some autonomous features, but says they already contain the hardware to one day be fully autonomous, also has its eyes on running a driverless taxi service in the coming years, provided by owners' cars operating while they are at work, asleep or on holiday. The Associated Press reports GM made the announcement Thursday, Nov. 30 to investors.

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