Matt Tsien, GM’s chief technical officer, noted the company is currently testing the battery system for the Origin at its proving grounds.

Correction: This story has been amended. GM is currently testing only the battery system for the Cruise Origin at its proving grounds. 

General Motors expects to begin testing preproduction models of the self-driving Cruise Origin at its Michigan proving grounds next year, according to a key GM executive.

The company is currently testing the battery system for the driverless Origin on roadways at the GM Proving Grounds in Milford, Michigan, said Matt Tsien, GM executive vice president and CTO, said during a webinar organized by the Society of Automotive Analysts.

The effort coincides with Cruise’s move to begin testing Bolt-based autonomous vehicles in San Francisco — without drivers. The company received approval from California to remove the human backup drivers from the vehicles last month. The test vehicles should be on the streets of San Francisco by the end of the year.

(Cruise starting tests without drivers in San Francisco.)

GM’s timeline calls for preproduction models of the Cruise Origin shuttle to begin testing in 2021.

GM expects to begin building pre-production versions of the shuttle-like Origin in 2021, Tsien said. “The pre-production vehicles will come next year,” he said, adding GM is already preparing the sprawling Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant to build the Origin.

Last month, GM renamed the plant “Factory Zero” to label it as the center of production of GM’s growing fleet of electric vehicles after a $2.2 billion renovation. The budget for the renovation represents the single largest investment in a plant in GM history and it employ 2,200 workers when it is finished.

Like the Hummer EV, the Cruise Origin will be built on GM’s Ultium battery platform, which Tsien noted is flexible enough to build a wide range of electric vehicles. Tsien said GM has a long history of being a leader in innovation, leading the way with inventions such as the electric starter. Now the industry is getting ready to change the world again and GM is leading the change, he said.

(Cruise gets okay to carry passengers in California.)

“Innovation is at the core of everything we do,” added Tsien, who became GM’s CTO in April after leading GM China, and is also now president of GM Ventures, which invests in promising startup companies.

Cruise got approval to begin testing is autonomous vehicles on the streets of San Francisco.

Tsien says a key reason why GM recently announced plans to add 3,000 new employees to its technical staff was to focus on the kinds of over-the-air updates that will come from a new Vehicle Intelligence Platform. GM also working on changes to its “Super Cruise” system, which will soon move a vehicle from one lane to another.

Super Cruise initially was offered only on high-end Cadillac vehicles, but GM has plans to put it in as many as 22 different vehicles by 2023. It will continue to limit availability to Cadillac models through the end of the 2021 model-year, but add the feature to the CT4 and CT5 sedans, as well as the totally redone Escalade SUV.

In 2022, things will change, with Super Cruise starting to spread out into other brands, Chevrolet adding it to the Bolt EV (including the extended-range version of that battery car, the Bolt EUV coming that year), as well as the Silverado and GMC Sierra.

(GM ramping up broad rollout of semi-autonomous Super Cruise.)

That move comes on the heels of Consumer Reports naming Super Cruise as the top semi-autonomous driving technology available in late October. The technology is available for use on more than 200,000 miles of U.S. roads, although those are limited to highways and selected other surface streets.

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