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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.

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