When the 2022 GMC Sierra pickup comes to market in the months ahead, it not only will get some minor updates to its exterior and interior design but also add tech features such as a significantly updated version of General Motors’ hands-free Super Cruise system.
Super Cruise, originally launched on the old Cadillac CT6 sedan, was one of the first semi-autonomous driving systems available, initially able to operate hands-free on about 120,000 miles of limited-access roadways. GM has since expanded that to 200,000 miles. The automaker also is rolling Super Cruise out on other product lines — and adding new functions.
The most notable new feature is the system’s ability to automatically pass a slower vehicle without the driver’s intervention. The GMC version of Super Cruise also will allow the Sierra pickup to operate in hands-free mode, even while pulling a trailer.
Since GM first introduced Super Cruise in late 2017, it has been an a series of relatively low-volume products, starting with the Cadillac CT6. It is now offered on several other Caddy models, as well as the new Chevrolet Bolt EUV battery-electric SUV.
Super Cruise moving to a new level
Introducing it on the Sierra “will truly bring (the technology) to a mass market,” said Chas Russell, the pickup’s marketing manager.
Demand for the truck has gone up steadily in recent years, jumping from 217,943 in 2017 to a record 253,014 last year — an increase all the more notable considering the overall decline of the U.S. market in 2021 due to the pandemic.
GM’s expansion of Super Cruise-approved roads to 200,000 miles, includes some roads with occasional grade crossings.
While there are other “autonomous” systems that permit a driver to briefly go hands-free, most require a motorist to maintain at least a light grip on the steering wheel. In spite of its hype, that includes Tesla’s Autopilot. With Super Cruise, drivers can take hands off the wheel as long as they’re on a “mapped” section of road. These have been mapped to a much higher level of precision than what a conventional in-car navigation system is capable of — typically down to a few inches.
Drivers still need to stay attentive and ready to retake control in an emergency — or when reaching the end of a mapped road. A special camera system monitors the driver and the vehicle will slow down if they grow inattentive or, say, distracted while using a smartphone.
GM’s goal is to steadily add more features to Super Cruise. Last year, it added “Lane Change on Demand.” That let a driver tap the turn signal to change lanes, as long as the system thought it safe.
The update on Sierra won’t even require driver input, as I discovered during a series of laps of the high-speed test track at the General Motors Proving Grounds in Milford, Michigan. When another vehicle cut in front and then slowed down, the pickup I was driving automatically moved to the left lane, executed a pass and then moved back over again.
The updated Super Cruise system continues to allow a driver to manually call for it to make a lane change by tapping the turn signal. I could also cancel an auto-pass by tightly gripping the steering wheel or tapping the turn signal in the other direction.
The 2022 GMC Sierra will also be able to use Super Cruise while towing — a common situation with the popular truck. However, the pickup won’t be able to executive auto lane changes or lane changes on demand while towing.
That’s because Super Cruise relies on a “sensor fusion” using cameras as well as an assortment of forward, side and rear-facing radar units. A trailer blocks out those looking rearward.
Additional advantages while towing
But another new Sierra feature is a welcome consolation prize. The current version of the truck can provide a driver 15 different camera views. These include side views, a look at the cargo bed and even a “transparent trailer” mode that uses a remote camera mounted on the back of the trailer to make it look like you can see through it.
For 2022, the video display on the center console will appear to project a red box on the roadway that shows where another vehicle might be hidden in the trailer’s blind spot. That should make it easier and safer to change lanes while towing.
GMC is keeping mum about other changes to the 2022 model and made a point of noting the prototypes we drove were not accurate representations of the updated vehicle — just the new technology.
The 2022 GMC Sierra will go on sale some time late this year or early next year as a late ’22 entry. The ongoing shortage of semiconductor chips appears to be partly responsible for the slow rollout.
GMC officials also aren’t discussing pricing for the Super Cruise option. It is offered on different product lines for $2,500 and up. Meanwhile, GM plans to go to a subscription model that will offer buyers three years of free usage and then charge a $25 monthly fee after that.