General Motors President sees self-driving cars by 2020

"I'd be surprised if it didn't happen by then," says GM's Dan Ammann.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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Roger Cheng
2 min read
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ATLANTA--General Motors is bullish on the prospects of an autonomous car emerging over the next few years.

When asked about whether self-driving cars would emerge by 2020, GM President Dan Ammann didn't hesitate with his answer.

"I'd be quite surprised if it hadn't happened by then," Ammann said during an investor conference.

Ammann was speaking about the technical ability to create an autonomous car, and not necessarily about the prospects of timing for commercial availability. There are likely other issues, including regulatory ones, that still need to be overcome for such a car to actually hit a dealership.

Rutberg analyst Rajeev Chand noted that Nissan has said that by 2020 they're planning on driver-assisted autonomous driving. GM told CNET in an e-mailed statement that Ammann was answering a question about driver-assisted self-driving cars.

In a fireside chat with Chand largely related to the future of the connected car, Ammann was reluctant to commit to too many firm statements or beliefs.

"The connected car will fundamentally change the industry," he said, without going too deeply into the details.

For instance, he said it was too soon to call whether the industry should rally behind a standard. He noted that GM was working with both Google and its Open Automotive Alliance and has worked with Apple to get Siri integrated into its cars, but wouldn't make a call on whether there would be a winner. He also declined to clearly comment on whether he thought those two were competitive threats.

"We define our competitive threats broadly," he said.

Ammann was also reluctant to answer questions about specific connected car services, or whether those services will drive sales, noting that he preferred to think of all of the different services as an integrated package.

"We take systems and products and tie them all together into one end product," he said.

Ammann acknowledged that there is the risk of fragmentation and confusion -- particularly for developers -- and said the key is to define the platform and explore where the relevancy is going to be for app makers.

"We're at the forefront of that from an app point of view," he said.

Ammann also didn't announce any pricing plans, but noted that GM already has a base of customers paying for connected services. He noted 185,000 customers push an OnStar button for assistance every day. He believes LTE will take those services to the next level.

Lastly, he dodged a question about whether Detroit was behind Google in innovating, noting the different businesses that they operate in.

"We feel comfortable where we are," he said.

Updated at 1:05 pm PT on Tuesday and 10:51 am PT on Wednesday: To note that Ammann wasn't speaking about the commercial availability of a self-driving car and that Ammann was answering a question about driver-assisted autonomous cars.