U.S. automaker General Motors (GM) unveiled an ambitious plan Thursday to debut its first self-driving ride-hailing service in major U.S. cities including San Francisco by 2019.
"If we continue on our current rate of change, we will be ready to deploy this technology, in large scale, in the most complex environments, in 2019," GM president Dan Ammann said at a business conference.
The 109-year-old U.S. automaker regards driverless vehicles as the biggest business opportunity after the creation of the Internet.
It has focused on rolling out self-driving cars since the automaking giant acquired startup company Cruise Automation in early 2016 for an estimated 1 billion U.S. dollars and made it the cornerstone of its self-driving thrust.
Local media reports said GM plans to offer its ride-hailing service for about 1.5 dollars a mile (1.6 km) and even 1 dollar a mile in a short period of time, which will be far less than the costs of 2 to 3 dollars a mile charged by most existing market players such as Uber or Lyft in San Francisco.
Currently, California law requires that all self-driving cars in San Francisco, a tourist city on the west coast of the United States, operate with a backup driver.
"We don't see (regulations) as an impediment to wide-scale deployment," Ammann said, adding that safety will ultimately be the deciding factor on when to take the driver out of the car.
GM has faced huge challenges regarding the robot-taxi service in less than two years as have many other companies, such as arch-rival Ford and Uber, who are also considering bringing a self-driving car into the market.
GM now has a total workforce of 1,200 people working on its self-driving cars.