Detroit - General Motors is seeking US government approval for a fully autonomous car - one without a steering wheel, brake pedal or accelerator pedal - to enter the carmaker's first commercial ride-sharing fleet in 2019, executives said.
For passengers who cannot open doors, the Cruise AV - a rebranded version of GM's Chevrolet Bolt EV - has even been designed to perform that task. It will have other accommodations for hearing and visually impaired customers.
This will be one of the first self-driving vehicles in commercial passenger service and among the first to do away with manual controls for steering, brakes and throttle. What is the driver's seat in the Bolt EV will become the front left passenger seat in the Cruise AV, GM said.
Company President Dan Ammann told reporters that GM had on Thursday filed for government approval to deploy the "first production-ready vehicle designed from the start without a steering wheel, pedals or other unnecessary manual controls."
GM is part of a growing throng of vehicle manufacturers, technology companies and tech startups seeking to develop so-called robo-taxis over the next three years in North America, Europe and Asia. Most of those companies have one or more partners.
Ford announced on Tuesday that it would partner with delivery service Postmates as the carmaker starts testing ways to transport people, food and packages this spring in its self-driving cars, which are being developed by Ford's Argo unit.
Other companies, from Uber Technologies to Alphabet's Waymo, have been testing self-driving vehicle prototypes in limited ride sharing applications, but have been less explicit than GM in announcing plans for commercial robo-taxi services.
GM executives said the carmaker has asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to allow 16 alterations to existing vehicle safety rules - such as having an airbag in what would normally be the driver's seat, but without a steering wheel - to enable the deployment of the Cruise AV.
The company would then need to obtain similar approval from individual US states. GM executives said seven US states already allow the alterations sought by the carmaker. In other states - including those that stipulate a car must have a licensed human driver - GM will work with regulators to change or get a waiver from existing rules.
GM wants to control its own self-driving fleet partly because of the tremendous revenue potential it sees in selling related services, from e-commerce to infotainment, to consumers riding in those vehicles.
At a November 30 briefing in San Francisco, GM's Ammann told investors that the lifetime revenue generation of one of its self-driving cars could eventually be "several hundred thousands of dollars." That compares with the $30 000 on average that GM collects today for one of its vehicles, mostly derived from the initial sale.
GM's Cruise AV is equipped with the company's fourth-generation self-driving software and hardware, including 21 radars, 16 cameras and five lidars - sensing devices that use laser light to help autonomous cars "see" nearby objects and obstacles.
The Cruise AV will be able to operate in hands-free mode only in premapped urban areas.