Skip to main content

Where we’re going, we don’t need steering wheels, GM’s Cruise believes

General Motors-owned Cruise is trying is not trying to reinvent the wheel, it’s trying to get rid of it. The steering wheel, that is.

The Cruise Origin is an electric car designed from the ground up for autonomous driving. It doesn’t have a steering wheel, pedals, or a rearview mirror. What it does have is an array of sensors and a control system derived from Cruise’s current fleet of prototype autonomous cars. The lack of manual controls, along with a compact electric powertrain, frees up more space for passengers, Cruise CEO Dan Ammann said in a blog post. Despite its boxy shape, the Origin has roughly the same footprint as an ordinary car, Ammann said.

Co-developed with Honda, the Origin is more like a scaled-down bus than a conventional car. Its entry height is lower, and three times wider, than that of a conventional passenger car, according to Ammann, making ingress and egress easier. Instead of swinging open like regular car doors, the Origin’s doors all slide, so they pose less danger to cyclists, Ammann said. The seats also face other (similar to some vintage electric cars), so passengers can more easily converse.

Cruise didn’t offer many details on what lies under the Origin’s skin, but Ammann said it will be based on a new electric-specific platform from parent GM. The Detroit automaker is launching a slew of electric cars, so the Origin may share underpinnings with a human-driven model. Cruise currently uses modified Chevrolet Bolt EV electric cars in its test fleet.

You won’t be able to buy an Origin; it will be used exclusively in ridesharing services. Cruise didn’t offer many details on how or where it would launch a ridesharing service, but Ammann said the company hopes to improve on what he views as the inconsistency of Uber or Lyft. Customers will never end up with “a compact car that smells like Mountain Dew or Pine-Sol, driven by someone who’s been up since 4:00 a.m.,” Ammann wrote.

Ammann said ridesharing services are more efficient than private car ownership. While the average car stays parked 95% of the time, Origin electric cars will constantly be on the move, he said. The Origin will also last up to 1 million miles — six times longer than the average car, Ammann said. That will save the average San Francisco household $5,000 in annual transportation costs, according to Ammann. Ridesharing also gives Cruise more control over how cars are used, ensuring they don’t end up in situations the autonomous-driving tech can’t handle.

Cruise may have the car, but it’s unclear when you’ll be able to go for a ride in it. The company originally targeted a 2019 launch for its ridesharing service, then pushed back the deadline indefinitely in the middle of last year. While Waymo currently offers rides in modified Chrysler Pacifica minivans, Cruise hasn’t made any visible progress toward a commercial ridesharing service in recent months.

Editors' Recommendations

Stephen Edelstein
Stephen is a freelance automotive journalist covering all things cars. He likes anything with four wheels, from classic cars…
GM unveils more advanced version of its Super Cruise driver-assist system
GM's Ultra Cruise interface.

General Motors (GM) has unveiled its most advanced driver-assist system to date, called Ultra Cruise.

The new technology will exist alongside its established Super Cruise driver-assist system, with the Super version to remain available on its more mainstream vehicles and Ultra reserved for its premium motors, the American auto giant said this week.

Read more
GM Cruise given nod to test fully driverless cars in San Francisco
gm cruise to test fully driverless cars in san francisco

It’s time to drive change

General Motors’ autonomous vehicle unit, Cruise, will start testing fully driverless cars on the streets of San Francisco before the end of 2020.

Read more
GM gets serious with $2.2 billion investment in electric trucks, SUVs
General Motors dedicated electric car factory

After years of talk, General Motors is finally getting serious about building large numbers of electric cars. The largest United States automaker will spend $2.2 billion to retool its Detroit-Hamtramck factory for electric-car production. This will be the first GM factory dedicated to electric cars, with cars scheduled to start rolling off its assembly line in 2021.

GM currently has just one all-electric model in its U.S. lineup -- the Chevrolet Bolt EV. That car is built in a factory that also makes gasoline models. GM has said it plans to launch 20 all-electric models globally 2023. While not all of those cars will be sold in the U.S., the plan still requires GM to massively expand manufacturing infrastructure. The investment in the Detroit-Hamtramck plant is the first indication that GM is actually following through with that plan.

Read more