- Automated Vehicles
- Automated Driving
Shared Mobility Vehicles Are the Shape of Things to Come
In the 1970s, when my passion for cars was starting to bloom, Triumph Motor Company launched a sports car called the TR7 with the tagline, “The Shape of Things to Come.” Triumph has been out of the car business for nearly 4 decades and the TR7’s wedge profile proved a passing fancy. In 2020, the SUV’s elevated wagon profile has become the dominant shape of personal transportation. The next transportation design epoch appears likely to be the box, as manifested in the new Cruise Origin.
In the heart of San Francisco, Cruise LLC, the automated driving company owned by General Motors, Honda Motor Co., Inc., and SoftBank, unveiled the Origin as its first purpose-built automated vehicle (AV). Unlike each new Tesla launched, or the recent Ford Mustang Mach-E, Cruise is not taking pre-orders for the Origin because no individual can buy one.
Cruise Origin in San Francisco's Castro District
First of Its Name but Not Alone in Its Kind
Like many others in the AV industry, Cruise CEO Dan Ammann has consistently spoken of moving beyond the car. His vision is a future where most people do not own cars that are only driven for 1-2 hours a day. Instead, people might call up rides to take them where they need to go, then those vehicles would go pick someone else up, all without a human driver. With this vision, the Origin is a step along the way to hopefully achieving a world of zero emissions, zero crashes, and zero congestion.
Despite its name, the Origin is not especially original. In many respects it is conceptually like the automated shuttles already being tested by companies like NAVYA, May Mobility, Local Motors, and others (along with concepts like Toyota’s e-Pallette). In the coming months, we are expected to see more like this from competitors like Zoox and Ford Motor Company. These are not machines judged on the Concours lawn at Pebble Beach in 2050, but they may well get attendees there.
The Airliner Model May Be the Answer for Shared Mobility Services
Designed around the premise of high utilization in shared mobility services, the designers and engineers from GM and Honda that created the Origin have adopted a rethought vehicle architecture. These vehicles might be operated 100,000 miles a year or more with a minimum of empty, deadhead miles. This operation time is in contrast to conventional vehicles that might be worn out in 2-3 years, needing to be scrapped and replaced, which is a tremendous waste of materials and resources.
The Origin and others like it adopt something more like the airliner model. Commercial airframes fly for 20-25 years, getting rehabbed every few years with new interiors, in-flight entertainment, overhauled engines, and more. GM and Honda have designed a steel-unibody vehicle platform with a planned 1 million-mile service life. Modular systems allow for easy replacement of sensors, computers, and communications, keeping the vehicle technically relevant for its full service life. Seats and other interior systems would be easily cleaned and replaced.
Cost is managed by eliminating many of the legacy features not required for an automated taxi, like windshield wipers, mirrors, steering wheels, and pedals, along with amenities like reclining and adjustable seats. Ammann claimed that the Origin would cost about half as much as a premium electric SUV. The slide showed two Origins with a Tesla Model X and a Cruise spokesman did not dispute an estimate of somewhere around $50,000.
This self-driving box is not likely to set enthusiasts hearts aflutter, but it seems far more likely to represent the shape of transportation in the mid-21st century than the TR7.