'Look ma, no hands' on the car steering wheel still some way off

Thu Oct 10, 2013 12:07am EDT
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By Ben Klayman

DETROIT (Reuters) - When General Motors Co Vice Chairman Steve Girsky slid into a Cadillac SRX luxury crossover vehicle specially equipped to drive itself, his reaction echoed that of many consumers as more self-driving technologies are rolled out.

"It's a little unsettling at first when you take your hands off the wheel and then it's one of these ‘Oh wow' moments," Girsky said in a September 27 interview about the vehicle he test drove over a year ago.

While consumers may envision a George Jetson-like future where cars steer themselves as "drivers" read iPads, that reality is still years away for mass production cars.

What most automakers and suppliers see near term is cars equipped with "driver assistance" features that help in unsafe conditions, prevent accidents and take a lot of the stress out of driving.

These features will be stepping stones towards a fully- driverless car.

One of the first situations mass-production cars can handle without a driver is bumper-to-bumper traffic. Some cars are already equipped to steer themselves into a parking space. Others warn drivers if they are over the speed limit and brake the vehicle automatically to avoid a collision.

Companies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to keep up with consumers' demand for such technology. Get it right and car buyers will pay thousands of dollars for the added features, analysts said.

"If automakers build it and can explain the value proposition, consumers will come," said Gary Silberg, national auto industry leader for consulting firm KPMG, which released a study Thursday about consumer attitudes toward self-driving cars.   Continued...

General Motors Vice Chairman, interim President of GM Europe and Chairman of the Opel Supervisory Board Steve Girsky waves as he sits inside an Opel Adam car during the start of the car production in Eisenach January 10, 2013. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner