GM Invests $100M to Build Cruise AV Cars in Michigan

General Motors is planning to invest $100 million to upgrade two of its Michigan facilities, where the company plans to build new lines of self-driving cars.

Specifically, GM will build production versions of its Cruise AV at its Orion Township assembly plant north of Detroit, while roof modules for the company’s self-driving vehicles will be assembled at its Brownstown plant.

Production of the fourth-generation Cruise AV is expected to begin in 2019, and roof module production has already begun, according to the company.

Workers at the Orion plant have been assembling Cruise self-driving test vehicles for a little more than a year now, with more than 200 of the test cars assembled at the plant.

The company filed a safety petition with the US Department of Transportation (DOT) for the fourth-generation, self-driving Cruise AV, which is built from the start without a steering wheel, pedals or manual controls.

“We’re continuing to make great progress on our plans to commercialize in 2019,” GM president Dan Ammann noted in a March 15 statement.

The Orion Assembly facility, located approximately 30 miles north of Detroit, is currently producing the Chevrolet Sonic and Chevrolet Bolt EV, and those vehicles will continue to roll off the line in addition to the Cruise AV.

The plant has been the recipient of more than $750 million dollars in investment from GM since 2010, including a $160 million sum in 2014 for tooling and equipment to build the Bolt EV.

The announcement also follows remarks made earlier this month by GM CEO Mary Barra at the annual CERAWeek energy conference in Houston, where she revealed the company would increase Bolt EV production at Orion later this year.

“With human error still the leading cause of crashes, ultimately self-driving cars can help save many of the 1.25 million people around the world who are killed in crashes every year,” she noted in her opening remarks.

At the Brownstown plant, the roof modules, which integrate special equipment for autonomous vehicle operation such as Lidar, cameras, sensors and other hardware, will be assembled on their own dedicated line.

The plant, part of a GM subsidiary called GM Subsystems Manufacturing, also assembles lithium-ion batteries for several GM vehicles, including the Chevrolet Volt, Malibu Hybrid and Silverado eAssist the GMC Sierra eAssist, the Buick LaCrosse Hybrid, and the Cadillac CT6 plug-in vehicles.

In 2014, GM announced a $65 million investment in the plant to produce next-generation lithium-ion battery and future battery technologies.

Alphabet’s self-driving car project, Waymo, and GM — the twin titans of autonomous vehicles — were the top-performing companies for vehicle testing, according to reports the automakers were obliged to submit to California’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

GM saw its vehicles drive a total of 131,676 miles in 2017, representing a 121,900-mile increase from 2016.

Albert Boniske, director of product integrity for GM’s self-driving car division, wrote in a December report that all driving was done on San Francisco’s complex city streets.

Of the 105 reported disengagements during the 12-month period, a little under half of those disengagements undertaken due to other road users behaving poorly.

— Nathan Eddy is a filmmaker and freelance journalist based in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter @dropdeaded209_LR.

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