At a time when the entire auto industry is racing toward the long-sought goal of fully autonomous driving, recent headlines about General Motors’ apparent abandonment of its Ultra Cruise advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) seemed out of step with the way everything is going. Even if its electric vehicle and robotaxi initiatives had a tough year, why walk away from that goal? The reason, a GM official said, kind of comes down to marketing: Ultra Cruise is about to be merged with the much more well-known Super Cruise.
“GM is not scaling back its advanced driver assistance (ADAS) programs,” GM spokesperson Aimee Ridella told InsideEVs today. “We have reallocated our ADAS-focused resources to bring even more capability to Super Cruise under one recognizable consumer brand.”
This comes after reports that indicated the Ultra Cruise program was to be canceled, which is only partially true. The key part of the original CNBC story this came from, sources said, is this: “GM has decided to instead focus on the current Super Cruise system and expanding its capabilities rather than having two different, similarly named systems.”
A bit confusing, right? Sure. It helps to understand how we got here.
Super Cruise was first released way back in 2017 on the then-new Cadillac CT6 gasoline-powered luxury sedan. It has long been classified as a “Level 2” type of semi-autonomous technology, a driver assistance aid above purely human operation. Over the past few years, GM has upgraded Super Cruise as it spread to a variety of other gas and electric models, including the Chevrolet Bolt, Cadillac Escalade and Lyriq, GMC Hummer EV and many more. The latest version of Super Cruise includes features like automatic lane-changing, and is widely regarded as one of the better ADAS technologies on the market.
But then GM announced Ultra Cruise in 2021, meant to be an even more advanced system that built on the foundation laid by Super Cruise. Arguably the biggest difference between the two was Ultra Cruise’s addition of Lidar, but it was still a “Level 2+” system—something that could eventually “enable hands-free driving in 95% of all driving scenarios,” as GM put it. Though it was only meant to be limited to hundreds of thousands of roads that GM has already mapped out, it was originally supposed to debut in 2023 on the $300,000 Cadillac Celestiq—which obviously did not happen. (Mercedes’ Drive Pilot is arguably the only Level 3 system on the roads, and its functions remain limited only to California and Nevada.)
So amid reports that the Ultra Cruise program was ending, a source familiar with the situation indicated GM was merging that program with Super Cruise. The automaker had two different teams working on two different solutions, this source said, and since Ultra Cruise was designed to be just a “more capable” Level 2 system, it made sense internally to combine them. Ultimately, what GM may end up doing is offering higher and better “levels” of Super Cruise as new, more automated vehicles roll out. “We are not walking away from the capability, taking the money and moving to a different program,” the source indicated.
Moreover, the decision came down to a kind of marketing one; Super Cruise is far more well-known among consumers than Ultra Cruise is. (Still, confusion abounds; after all, Super Cruise and Ultra Cruise are not to be conflated with Cruise, GM’s troubled robotaxi division that develops autonomous technology independently, or BlueCruise, which is made by Ford.)
Nonetheless, GM has its work cut out in 2024. The Cruise robotaxi arm ended last year with layoffs, the ouster of its founding CEO and a number of questions about its safety, the now-cancelled Bolt EV carried most of its electric sales and its stock price hasn’t consistently grown in 10 years. But it’s not walking away from the goal of more advanced automated driving, just leaning into a brand that most people know better anyway.
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