What Does 2016 Hold for Driverless Cars?

Image source: General Motors

The first iteration of Super Cruise is expected to have capabilities roughly similar to those of Tesla's Autopilot, but (like Tesla) GM is working on much more advanced self-driving capabilities that it will introduce over the next few years. BMW is also expected to step up in the next year or so with a highway-capable self-driving system for its big 7 Series sedan.

Toyota may also get into this game in 2016. It's working on a comprehensive self-driving system that it expects to introduce around 2020. It's possible that some self-driving features could show up in its Lexus models as soon as next year. Ford also says that it plans to ramp up testing of its own self-driving system in 2016 , but it may not have that system available for sale for another few years.

None of these automakers have told us exactly what their upcoming systems will and won't do. Nor do we know what Tesla has in mind for the next iteration of its Autopilot. But hands-off-the-wheel capabilities in highway-driving situations are rapidly becoming the minimum needed for a credible entry, at least among higher-end luxury brands. It's likely that at least one or two of those contenders will go considerably further next year -- as long as the law allows.

Automotive innovation follows a (usually) predictable path

The choice of Audi and Cadillac to premier self-driving systems from VW and GM was no accident. It's common for automakers to introduce new technology on high-end luxury cars first, rolling it out in subsequent years as costs come down and the automakers gain experience with the technology. (This has been Tesla's path, too.)

That has been the pattern with pretty much every innovation we now take for granted in mainstream cars, from traction control and anti-lock brakes all the way back to power windows and the first automatic transmissions in the late 1930s.

For all of the noise that Silicon Valley companies have made about self-driving cars, it continues to look likely that the first fully self-driving vehicles available to consumers will come from a familiar automaker -- or from Tesla. But while that first self-driving car is likely to be a big luxury sedan or SUV, it's also likely that it won't be long after that first self-driving luxury car's debut until the technology finds its way to mainstream models.

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The article What Does 2016 Hold for Driverless Cars? originally appeared on

John Rosevear owns shares of Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool recommends Ford and General Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days . We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy .

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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