Business Monday

Looking at the future — through a windshield

In this Tuesday, June 13, 2017, file photo, a self-driving Chevrolet Bolt EV that is in General Motors Co.'s autonomous vehicle development program appears on display at GM's Orion Assembly in Lake Orion, Mich.
In this Tuesday, June 13, 2017, file photo, a self-driving Chevrolet Bolt EV that is in General Motors Co.'s autonomous vehicle development program appears on display at GM's Orion Assembly in Lake Orion, Mich. AP File

Talk of AVs, EVs and geo-fencing will replace horsepower, fuel efficiency and cylinders in the week ahead for General Motors. The automaker holds a webcast on Thursday promising to “share our vision for an autonomous future.”

What it means is cars and trucks without drivers.

The 110-year old company is embracing a zero-emission, driverless future. In early October, GM’s head of product development Mark Reuss made the bold pronouncement that “General Motors believes in an all-electric future.” It may take another step into that future Thursday as it lays out its future for driverless vehicles.

This is a remarkable transition for the firm that declared bankruptcy in 2009. It was helped by an infusion of taxpayer money. The loans were paid back, but the government lost money on its GM stock. Shareholders, though, have been rewarded this year. GM shares are up 24 percent compared to the 16 percent rally for the S&P 500 stock index.

Under CEO Mary Barra, General Motors is betting on electric vehicles, especially autonomous cars to fuel its future. The company has been dropping hints for weeks that it will launch its own fleet of driverless electric cars in the next few years. More specifics on any ride-sharing type initiative could be part of its Thursday announcement. This comes as the company boosts its all-electric portfolio to 20 vehicles by 2023.

Former vice chairman of GM Bob Lutz wrote in Automotive News this month the auto industry is “approaching the end of the automotive era.” He calls the cars, SUVs and trucks of the future “modules” and thinks the soon-to-be old-fashioned way of driving, with a human behind the wheel, will be outlawed in the next 20 years. Autonomy behind the wheel is just safer, he argues.

All this may sound like science fiction now. On Thursday, GM has an opportunity to map out its action plan making that fantasy a reality, and how it will make a profit along the way.

Tom Hudson hosts ‘The Sunshine Economy’ on WLRN-FM; @HudsonsView.

  Comments