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Start spreading the news: GM’s self-driving cars head to New York

In the United States, at least, the single most challenging terrain for self-driving cars may be New York City, where the traffic snarls are legendary, the pedestrians blithely disregard “Don’t Walk” signs, and there are fresh surprises on every block of every street. Thanks to an agreement with New York State, GM will be the first company to test self-driving vehicles–a fleet of electric Chevy Bolts–in the city, in a geofenced section of lower Manhattan.

The tests–with humans behind the wheel and police escorts–will take place beginning early next year and follow existing trials in Scottsdale, Arizona, and San Francisco, as well as GM’s home base in Michigan. “We learn about as much in one minute of San Francisco driving as we do in one hour in Scottsdale,” GM president Dan Ammann told me after his session at the Wall Street Journal’s D.LIVE conference. “The logical next step is to go to Manhattan.”

GM’s preparations for the future of transportation have included the launch of a car-sharing service called Maven and the $1 billion acquisition of Cruise Automation, a San Francisco autonomous-driving startup.
Annmann says that it all ties together into a vision of where its business is going, but cautions that the journey is just beginning: Only .1% of driving is currently conducted using “transportation as a service” offerings such as Maven, let alone in a vehicle that can steer itself.

He also told me that GM’s historic skill–engineering and manufacturing vehicles at scale–will remain important no matter how much the transportation industry changes in the years to come. After GM bought Cruise, he told me, “as the two teams worked closer and closer together, there was this realization that what the other guys did was really difficult.”HM