The first batch of next-generation autonomous Chevrolet Bolt EVs has been manufactured in Michigan. 130 new test vehicles were built to follow 50 current generation Bolt EVs that are seeing use in San Francisco, Scottsdale and the metropolitan Detroit area.

In its statement, GM calls its Bolt EV test cars the first instance of building autonomous vehicles in a mass-production facility, a claim that might ring true depending on an observer's definition of how autonomous the Bolt EV or, say, the current Tesla Autopilot actually is. Tesla's four Level 4 to 5 autonomous Model X prototypes logged 550 miles of autonomous testing in 2016; current consumer level Autopilot is considered Level 2. The difference between Level 2, 3 and 4 autonomy is whether the driver's attention must be placed on driving at all times; with Level 3 the driver would still have to be prepared to take the wheel at a given point, but at Level 4 no real driver interaction is ever required. A Level 5 autonomous vehicle would do without a steering wheel altogether.

GM wants to reach fully autonomous capabilities with the Bolt EV, and the test cars feature a beefy LIDAR/camera/sensor setup tailored by its Cruise Automation subsidiary. If anything, the size of GM's Bolt EV fleet befits the size of the manufacturer, and earlier claims would see it enlarged all the way to 300.

Building the autonomous Bolts in a mass production facility brings the vehicles closer to consumer level real world cars in several respects. "To achieve what we want from self-driving cars, we must deploy them at scale," said Cruise Automation CEO Kyle Vogt. "By developing the next-generation self-driving platform in San Francisco and manufacturing these cars in Michigan, we are creating the safest and most consistent conditions to bring our cars to the most challenging urban roads that we can find."

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