Mary Barra Addresses Intelligent Transport Society


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DETROIT – General Motors CEO Mary Barra addressed the 21st annual Congress of the Intelligent Transport Society on Sunday. Her prepared remarks are below. As always, the speaker’s words are definitive.

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Thank you for that warm welcome. 

It's a great pleasure to join you tonight.

I know the dialogue at this congress is going to be provocative. And what you experience behind the wheel on Belle Isle - if you even touch a steering wheel while you're there - will be jaw-dropping.

Some of you know this already, but you have come to Detroit at a critical time in the city's history. Long-vacant skyscrapers are being brought back to life, public and private partnerships are launching massive building projects and a bias for action is taking hold.

It's inspiring... and I believe... transformative.

Waves of energy like this come in cycles. And they create windows of opportunity where vision and leadership are rewarded. It's true in cities... and it's true in industries like ours too.

If you recognize what's going on... if you think big... if you ask your scientists and engineers to innovate... then you can change the world not in cautious steps...

but in great leaps.

I think the global auto industry is in the midst of one of these innovation cycles. And at GM, we have a renewed passion… the financial resources... the technology...

and the talent to think big... to step up our investments... and take calculated risks.

But where should we focus?

For my part, I'm listening to customers for insights. And whether you listen to people in Los Angeles... or London... or Beijing... what they want from the auto industry is clear.

They want unfettered personal mobility.

More specifically, they expect us to help mitigate... if not eliminate... the congestion... pollution... and traffic accidents that are the downsides of automobiles.

To me, these aren't noble causes. They are imperatives. If we expect our industry to thrive well into the future, we have to provide solutions. To do that, we have to be passionate and fearless advocates for safety technologies like vehicle-to-vehicle communication... vehicle-to-infrastructure communication... and ultimately, fully autonomous driving.

No other suite of technologies offers so much potential for good... and it's time to turn potential into reality. That's why I'm announcing today that GM will put its first V2V-enabled car on the road in about two years.

What's more, I'm announcing that we will bring an advanced, highly automated driving technology to the market in the same timeframe.

We are not doing anything for the sake of the technology itself. We're doing it because it's what customers around the world want – and not just GM owners. That's why I am asking ask all of you to accelerate your work in the field as well.

If we make bold moves together... then our generation will stand on the shoulders of engineering giants like Charles Kettering... Henry Ford... Eiji (Eee-jee) Toyoda... and Karl Benz.

I know we can do it.

Where we are today is actually a milestone on a long journey. 

In the video you just saw, you caught a glimpse of a concept car called the Firebird II. It was one of a series of GM concepts from the 1950s, like the LeSabre, that explored design themes and technologies that could advance the automotive state of the art.

It's fascinating to look back and see how these concepts showcased innovations that are commonplace in today's cars, including adaptive lighting, downsized and boosted engines, alternative fuels and lightweight materials.

Every detail was designed to impress. But then the studios had to stretch their imaginations. Think about it... the Boeing 707... the polio vaccine... the cathode ray tube... innovation was a daily part of life in the '50s.

The Firebird II was a showcase for GM’s most innovative thinking about the hot transportation topic of the day: congestion.

Congestion was such a big issue that GM actually created a “Better Highways” essay contest in 1952 and offered a prize of $25,000 – that’s close to a quarter of a million dollars today – to the person who came up with the best solution “to plan and pay for the safe and adequate highways we need.”

The New Yorkers here should be able to guess who won. It was Robert Moses, who built 416 miles of parkways in the New York City area during his long career. His prescription was a $50 billion campaign to build his era's equivalent of smart roads - a vast network of limited access freeways and interstates with uniform design, speed limits and lighting. 

GM's cross-country “Parade of Progress” tour showed how this would work. It featured a huge mobile display with more than 1,000 miniature buildings, 1,500 model cars and trucks and countless trees and other fixtures. One side showed a city choked by traffic congestion. Then revolving panels turned over to show how expressways and bypasses would make the problems go away.

The Firebird II took this solution several steps further. It cruised on superhighways with dedicated high-speed safety lanes. And finally, when conditions were right, the driver could engage a fully autonomous mode and let Mission Control pilot the vehicle.

Simply stated, the Firebird II was intelligent... and connected... even if some of its technology was considered science fiction. 

Today, “intelligent and connected” is an engineering reality, and it's exactly the right path for us to follow as we build the next generation of vehicles and roads around the world. So how should we move forward?

Let's start with the concept of “intelligent” cars, because our first responsibility is to keep making vehicles smarter in order to reduce crashes and injuries. Then we can weave in connectivity, and all the opportunities that it opens up.

Everyone here will agree that cars are more intelligent than they used to be. During the last 10 years, we have leveraged short- and long-range radars, cameras and sensors to support an incredible range of features, including... adaptive cruise control, cross-traffic alerts and crash-imminent braking, which can stop a car even if the driver's foot isn't on the brake pedal.

However, despite these advances, crashes still occur far too frequently, the toll on society is unacceptable and it’s a global problem. The United Nations and the World Health Organization say that vehicle crashes cost countries anywhere between 1 percent to 3 percent of their gross national product every year, which is staggering.

But we can’t let numbers disguise the fact that we’re talking about individual people... and their families. That’s why doing something is a responsibility every GM brand embraces, from Opel and Chevrolet to Cadillac. 


Almost 20 years ago, we introduced OnStar connected vehicle services and today our advisors respond to more than 13,000 emergency requests per month in North America alone. Now we're growing aggressively in China and Mexico, and expanding into Europe next year.

We are also expanding the availability of technologies like adaptive forward lighting, rear vision cameras, blind-zone monitoring and lane-keeping... and we are adding more nameplates that offer adaptive cruise control and collision-imminent braking.

Many of these technologies provide the foundation for something we call “Super Cruise.” That's the working name for the GM semi-automated driving technology that allows for hands-free driving on the highway - both at speed and in stop-and-go driving.

We started Super Cruise demonstration drives back in the spring of 2012. And since then, we've refined the system through thousands of hours on the road and in our Research Driving Simulator, which is the ultimate Xbox. 

In 2013, Popular Mechanics magazine ranked Super Cruise among the year's most important innovations in technology, medicine, space exploration and automotive design. They thought it might be in production as soon as 2018. 

Well, we're going to better that by about two years and launch Super Cruise in the same timeframe as V2V. And it will appear for the first time on an all-new Cadillac that's going to enter a segment where we don't compete today.

With Super Cruise, when there's a congestion alert on roads like California's Santa Monica Freeway, you can let the car take over and drive hands-free and feet-free through the worst stop and go traffic around. And if the mood strikes you on the high-speed road from Barstow, California to Las Vegas, you can take a break from the wheel and pedals and let the car do the work.

Having it done for you – that’s true luxury. But rest assured, Super Cruise will keep drivers alert and engaged, and when they want to take control, they're going to find a car that's really fun to drive.

The next big challenge on the road to fully automated driving is to tackle the urban environment, where you have to dodge everything from jaywalkers and bike messengers to double-parked delivery trucks.

It will take 360 degrees of risk detection and enhanced driver assist features driven by incredibly powerful software. GM and Carnegie Mellon University demonstrated this when the “Boss,” our fully autonomous Chevy Tahoe, won the DARPA Urban Challenge in 2007. The Boss navigated 60 miles of mixed traffic, intersections and stop signs 20 minutes faster than the runner up.

Commercializing a fully automated vehicle may take until the next decade, but the work we’ve done so far has given us invaluable insights into things like sensor fusion, which we use today on vehicles like the Cadillac CTS, which has a total of 18 electronic eyes.

Each new research project has advanced the state of the art, and some of our latest thinking is captured in GM research vehicles that you can drive on Belle Isle. They include an automated Opel Insignia equipped with digital maps and GPS, six LIDAR sensors in the bumpers, and both V2V and V2I technology.

We also will showcase an innovative Vehicle-to-Pedestrian technology that can warn drivers about the presence of people like construction workers, paramedics and public safety officers - even if they're hidden from view.

In addition, we have brought an autonomous derivative of our Chevrolet EN-V urban mobility concept, which is tailored for the world's mega-cities, as well as corporate and academic campus settings.

The ENV is powered by electricity, it takes up minimal space and it can transport two people in climate-controlled comfort in all weather and city road conditions. This makes it a natural evolution of the original EN-V concept.

A few minutes ago, I talked about congestion warnings, which are a daily part of life in so many cities around the world. In Los Angeles, they're called “Sig Alerts” and the Highway Patrol issues them for “any unplanned event that causes the closing of one lane of traffic for 30 minutes or more.” They are nightmare scenarios, because even a simple fender-bender can back up traffic for miles.

The Sig Alert backstory is fascinating. In 1955, a former Army communications engineer named Loyd Sigmon invented a system that enabled police dispatchers to transmit an inaudible radio tone that could be picked up by special receivers at local radio stations. The station could then broadcast the message to listeners in a matter of seconds.

Sig Alerts were ingenious. But we're on the cusp of something better: the high-volume rollout of vehicle-to-vehicle connectivity.

In the United States, the President and the Department of Transportation have been clear: V2V is one of their highest priorities because they believe it is game changing technology. Japan, and the European Union have also made deploying the technology a priority, and there is growing interest in China as well.

Everyone recognizes that when cars can talk to each other, and share information about speed, direction, operating performance and more, we'll save lives, save time and save money, as well.  As NHTSA stated in its V2V readiness report: V2V-equipped vehicles “perceive some threats sooner than sensors, cameras or radar can, and warn their drivers accordingly.”

When cars can talk to the infrastructure, the benefits will rise exponentially. For example, V2I-enabled red lights won't hold up traffic when they're not needed and highly accurate, real-time traffic updates will help further reduce congestion -- which we all know creates driver frustration and waste.

When it comes to driver frustration, researchers at York University in Toronto gave this clinical assessment: “As your car slows to a crawl, your heart rate picks up, your breathing intensifies and your blood pressure shoots up.” If this sounds like a precursor to a heart attack, you're not too far off.

Then there’s the wasted time and natural resources. The Texas Transportation Research Institute reports that congestion causes urban Americans to travel 5.5 billion more hours and purchase an extra 2.9 billion gallons of fuel each year. But Americans are not alone.

In fact, there are 11 European countries that are more congested than the United States. And the gridlock in places like Rio de Janeiro and Beijing can dwarf even the biggest traffic jams in the United States.

At GM, we're so convinced of the safety and other benefits of connected cars... and so impatient for the future to arrive... that we are acting now.

For starters, OnStar is now launching the industry's largest deployment of 4GLTE mobile broadband. More than 30 of our 2015 models in North America will be equipped with 4GLTE by the end of the year. But this is about more than offering customers a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot. The pairing of OnStar with high-speed mobile broadband will serve as a platform for future innovations in traffic, safety and customer care.

I'm announcing the next major steps in the “intelligent and connected” journey right now: Cadillac will build GM's first V2V-equipped car – the 2017-model year Cadillac CTS – in about two years.  

Thanks to V2V, OnStar and a full suite of active safety features, we believe that the CTS will be one of the most – if not the most – intelligent and connected production vehicle on the road.

The CTS will talk to other V2V-equipped cars to avoid crashes... it will talk to

V2I-equipped infrastructure to reduce congestion... and its 4GLTE connection and active safety features will give drivers peace of mind.

Being at the vanguard, we clearly have a lot of work ahead of us.

But we will put the time to good use by accelerating our R&D and vehicle engineering efforts... engaging with regulators around the world... and most importantly... talking to customers.

I'm convinced customers will embrace V2V and automated driving technologies for one simple reason: they are the answer to everyday problems that people want solved. 

Starting the conversation with Cadillac will help us establish the science and engineering with luxury customers, who are incredibly influential. But that's just the beginning.

The sooner the industry puts a critical mass of V2V-equipped vehicles on the road, the more accidents we’ll prevent... and the more society – and individual drivers – will benefit. The same holds true for V2I. 

I see V2I as a natural complement to the active traffic management projects that are up and running in European countries like England, Germany, Greece and The Netherlands.

For example, the M4 and M5 Smart Motorways near Bristol, England now include things like variable speed limits, dynamic routing and lane markings, and improved traveler information systems.

One of the newest smart highway projects is California's high-tech makeover of I-80 in the East Bay, which is the San Francisco region's lousiest commute.

They're deploying a vast network of sensors, cameras and people to collect, assimilate and communicate traffic information about the freeway, major side streets and ramps. The goal is to sharply reduce the 2,000 crashes that happen in that area each year.

Now imagine how much more impactful this project could be if all of those cars were directly communicating to the infrastructure and the other vehicles around them -- instead of being islands unto themselves.

The U.S. Congress can help pave the way for V2I by including funding in the next transportation bill for more research on strategies to develop and pay for V2I infrastructure development.

In addition, we need more public-private partnerships to demonstrate the real-world benefits, which brings me to my final announcement of the day:

GM is joining forces with the Michigan Department of Transportation, the University of Michigan's Mobility Transformation Center and other automakers to create V2I-enabled corridors on 120 miles of metro Detroit roadways, including stretches of I-96 and the Reuther and Ford freeways. When completed, it will be the largest deployment of V2I technology in the United States. 

In closing, let me go back to the Firebird II. Looking at it from today's vantage point, the lesson is clear: It always pays to listen to customers... and then look over the horizon. That's what Boss Ket, the legendary GM research chief, meant when he said, “There will always be a frontier where there is an open mind and a willing hand.”

Nearly 60 years ago, a group of designers and engineers listened to customers talk about real-world problems like congestion, and they knew that traffic would only get worse if left unchecked.

They also heard people talk about how much they love to travel by car, and how great it would be if their vehicles could do more of the work on some trips. And it was clear that everyone wanted safer roads and safer cars for their families.

The Firebird II concept team dreamed of intelligent and connected technologies that could meet every one of these needs. But they didn't have the hardware or software to make their vision come true.

We do, thanks to the global ITS network... our consortium partners in North America and Europe... our Tier I suppliers from around the globe... and our academic partners, including Carnegie Mellon, Stanford, the University of Michigan, Virginia Tech and others.

Now we need to bring it all to market... and do it quickly.

Let's show the world that science, technology and innovation fuel our imaginations.

Let's follow in the footsteps of the engineers who invented the three-point seat belt, airbags... and stability control. 

Let's strive to build cars and trucks that don't crash.

Let's connect our vehicles. 

Let's do it together ... and make a real difference for our customers. 

Thank you.

General Motors Co. (NYSE:GM, TSX: GMM) and its partners produce vehicles in 30 countries, and the company has leadership positions in the world's largest and fastest-growing automotive markets. GM, its subsidiaries and joint venture entities sell vehicles under the Chevrolet, Cadillac, Baojun, Buick, GMC, Holden, Jiefang, Opel, Vauxhall and Wuling brands. More information on the company and its subsidiaries, including OnStar, a global leader in vehicle safety, security and information services, can be found at  


Mary Barra Addresses ITS World Congress

General Motors CEO Mary Barra addresses the Intelligent Transport Systems World Congress Sunday, September 7, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan. Barra announced Cadillac will offer advanced "intelligent and connected" vehicle technologies on certain 2017 model year vehicles including a driver assist technology called Super Cruise, and also vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication technology. (Photo by Steve Fecht for General Motors)