John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

CES: Dude, Where’s My Driverless Car?

So General Motors Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner says the company expects to have driverless cars on the road by 2018.

Now, I know the autonomous Chevrolet Tahoe SUV that GM developed with Carnegie Mellon University (pictured above) did win the Urban Challenge competition held last fall by the U.S. Defense Department’s research agency. And I know too that this is CES, an event founded on breathless pronouncements about the future of technology. But driverless cars on the road in another 10 years? Seems an irrationally exhuberant prognostication to me. But hey, when you’re the first auto executive ever to speak at the Consumer Electronics Show, you’ve got to come heavy, right?

And Wagoner came heavy, all right. He took the stage in a Chevy Volt, the gas/electric car GM debuted in Detroit last year. “The Volt is a powerful example of beauty and brains,” he said. “It looks on the outside and the technology under the hood is truly revolutionary. We’re now over a year into our production engineering for the Volt … and we’re moving as fast as we can to bring it to market.”

Wagoner went on to offer a brief overview of some new OnStar features–among them, “Stolen Vehicle Slowdown” and GM’s new collision-avoidance technology before moving on to flex-fuel vehicles. “There’s a huge opportunity to reduce the growth in oil consumption, oil imports and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Wagoner said. “And it lies in the fuel used by our cars and trucks. Ethanol offers tremendous potential here. … There are already many flex-fuel vehicles on the road right now that could be running on ethanol, if it were more readily available. … Now, if all of the flex-fuel vehicles that the major carmakers have already built–plus those that we’ll build over the next 10 years–were to run on ethanol, we could save 22 billion gallons of gasoline annually. … And that’s billion with a ‘B.’ “

And what of those autonomous vehicles Wagoner mentioned? Well, they’re still a ways off. But they’re coming (supposedly). And when (and if) they finally arrive, they’ll be God’s gift to terminal commuters. Said Wagoner, “Autonomous driving means that some day you’ll do your email, eat breakfast, read the newspaper–while commuting to work. Essentially, you could do all the things you do right now while commuting to work, except you could do them safely!”