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GM unit unveils self-driving car but not availability

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The Cruise Origin has no steering wheel or brakes, with room for six people sitting and facing each other.

San Francisco

CRUISE, the autonomous vehicle division of General Motors, unveiled an ambitious new vehicle on Tuesday that its executives said was "the beginning of the future beyond the car".

Emphasis on "beginning". The futuristic electric vehicle, called the Cruise Origin, has a long road to travel before any passengers will be able to hail a ride in it. Cruise would not give a time frame for its availability. It provided no details on how many vehicles it planned to produce or whether it had begun test drives on closed tracks. It has not obtained state or federal regulatory approval to drive on roads.

"Our work is far from done," Dan Ammann, chief executive of Cruise, said in a presentation.

Cruise emphasised that the Origin is more than just an idea, however. In an interview, Mr Ammann said that the company would begin producing prototypes of the Cruise Origin and test driving the car "in the near future". Referring to the annual consumer electronics show in Las Vegas, he said: "Unlike some things you see at CES, for example, this is not a concept car."

The event, held in a dark San Francisco warehouse with thumping hip-hop and orange uplighting, represented a coming-out party for the latest autonomous technology company eager to show progress at a moment when excitement around the category is waning.

Four years ago, self-driving hype reached a fever pitch. Carmakers struck partnerships with technology companies almost every week. Startups raised piles of funding at high valuations.

That year, GM plunked down nearly US$1 billion to acquire a 40-person startup in San Francisco called Cruise. The startup went on to raise billions more in outside funding. Headcount swelled to 1,700 workers.

But hype hit reality when testing data made it clear that it would take many more years for self-driving technology to be ready for widespread adoption. Google and Tesla had predicted that fully autonomous self-driving cars would be available by 2018, a deadline that passed with little fanfare.

Mr Ammann introduced the Origin alongside Kyle Vogt, Cruise's co-founder and president. A room full of "Cruisers", the company's term for its employees, cheered them on.

The rectangular-shaped vehicle with double sliding doors on each side has no steering wheel or brakes. Inside, it is spacious, with room for six people sitting and facing each other.

Cruise's plan is not to sell the vehicles but to operate a system of autonomous taxis - essentially, robo-taxis - that can be hailed via an app. It is in a race with Uber, which has an autonomous vehicle division, and Waymo, which is backed by Google's parent company, Alphabet.

Cruise's executives said that their vehicle is designed to last for one million miles (1.6 million km), far longer than typical cars. "Traditional cars haven't been designed with that mentality," Mr Vogt said in an interview. NYTIMES