Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt next to a third-generation prototype of General Motors' self-driving car.

  • GM has demonstrated an all-electric self-driving fleet of cars in San Francisco.
  • Tesla continues to struggle to scale up production of its Model 3.
  • In just a few years, the Detroit giant has surged ahead of the Silicon Valley upstart.

Earlier this week, General Motors and its Cruise self-driving-car division staged their first demonstration for the media of all-electric Chevy Bolt vehicles that can handle the streets of San Francisco without anybody’s hands on the wheel or feet on the pedals.

As Business Insider’s Troy Wolverton, who attended the event, reported, GM’s autonomous Bolt’s can’t self-motor without hitches. But it’s early days. The analogy that leaps to my mind is Kitty Hawk, the Wright brothers, and the dawn of flight. Orville and Wilbur made their first flight in 1903; passenger flight arrived a decade later, and by 1947, the sound barrier was broken by Chuck Yeager.

Self-driving cars don’t have to fly, but Yeager didn’t have to avoid airborne pedestrians on the way to 742 mph. The upshot is that what GM has achieved is prototypical spectacular: getting an autonomous vehicle to self-navigate a complicated urban streetscape is a profound achievement. And Cruise isn’t the only GM effort. Cadillac rolled out its Super Cruise semi-self-driving system earlier this year, enabling fully hands-free highway piloting.

GM started working on Super Cruise several years back, bought Cruise Automation in 2016, and got the Bolt into production and up to sales that could hit 5,000 per month in about two years. This concerted undertaking to define the future of mobility is aimed squarely at the perceived leader on that score — Tesla.

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