Test drive ‘hands-free’ systems from GM, Ford and Tesla

Lincoln Corsair 2023 will offer the company’s next-generation ActiveGlide hands-free advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) for highway driving including lane changes, lane navigation and speed prediction assist .


DETROIT – Letting go is hard. Even the major automakers want to make it easier.

Auto companies are rapidly expanding the technologies that can control a vehicle’s acceleration, braking, and steering. In some cases, allowing the driver to easily leave the steering wheel or pedals for miles at a time.

These systems – formally known as advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) – have the potential to open up new revenue streams for companies while reducing driver fatigue and improving ride comfort. safe on the road. But automakers have largely built their systems independently of each other, with no federal regulatory agency industry-standard guidelines. That means that after years of development, “hands-free” or “semi-autonomous” could mean very differently in the hands of rival automakers.

Obviously, none of the vehicles sold today are self-driving or autonomous. Drivers need to be attentive at all times. The current ADAS mainly uses a set of cameras, sensors and map data to assist the driver and also monitor the driver’s attention.

The car manufacturer most often discussed with ADAS is Tesla, has a bunch of technology it casually calls “Autonomous Driving” and “Full Self-Driving,” among other names. (Vehicles are not fully self-driving.) But common engine, Ford Motor and others are rapidly releasing or improving their own systems and extending them to new vehicles.

I recently tested ADAS from Tesla, GM and Ford. Their system is one of the most dynamic and available on the market. However, none of them were nearly perfect during my time behind the wheel.

And even small differences between systems can have a big impact on driver safety and confidence.

Superyacht of GM

I first tested GM’s system a decade ago on a closed circuit, and the automaker’s years of Super Cruise development have clearly paid off in terms of overall performance, safety, and performance. and the ability to clearly communicate with the driver. That works best and most consistent system.

GM initially released Super Cruise on a Cadillac sedan in 2017 — two years after Tesla’s Autopilot — before expanding it to 12 vehicles in recent years. It aims to offer Super Cruise on 22 cars, trucks and SUVs globally by the end of 2023.

The system allows drivers to operate “hands-free” while driving on more than 400,000 miles of pre-mapped highways in the US and Canada. (Ford has already mapped 150,000 miles, and Tesla’s system hypothetically works on any highway.)

When the steering wheel light bar lights up green with GM’s Super Cruise, the driver can take their hands off the steering wheel.

Michael Wayland / CNBC

Super Cruise is the leader when it comes to highway driving and can handle most challenges, including bends and lots of construction. Its latest updates also add an automatic lane change feature that works quite well to maintain a set speed by avoiding slower vehicles.

Over hundreds of miles of system control, I can regularly participate in Super Cruise for up to 30 minutes, even extending a period to more than an hour without having to control the vehicle. When Super Cruise is down, it will usually come back on after a few minutes, if not seconds.

According to GM, the majority of the problems I’ve had can be attributed to outdated map data that the system requires in order to function. When new construction is completed or more temporary work is underway, GM’s system defaults to returning control to the driver until the road is correctly mapped.

GM says it has produced more than 40,000 Super Cruise-equipped vehicles, although not all of these vehicles represent active users and have traveled more than 45 million miles hands-free.

The price of the system varies by vehicle and brand – like $2,500 for a Cadillac – and has a subscription cost of $25 per month or $250 per year after the free trial period .

Ford’s Blue Yacht

Ford’s system is the latest of the three automakers and is similar to GM’s. Besides the aforementioned and pre-mapping capabilities, both systems have an infrared camera in the vehicle to make sure the driver is paying attention. But if GM’s system is a competent and confident “driver”, Ford’s is still a teenager learning, albeit very quickly.

Ford’s system – marketed as Ford BlueCruise and ActiveGlide for Lincoln – was first made available in July 2021, though the company has expanded the system to more than 109,000 registered vehicles with over 35 million miles of hands-free driving as of the end of November.

Pricing for Ford’s system varies by brand and vehicle type. It can be part of a package of options worth around $2,000 and includes other features for the Ford F-150 and the 2023 Mustang Mach-E. Like the GM, it requires a subscription after the trial period. .

Like GM, Ford’s system works fine on the highway…that’s until it doesn’t. It’s more unpredictable and especially struggles with larger or sharper curves, built-up areas, and in other circumstances that can be easily handled by drivers.

Ford’s BlueCruise system is on display on the Mustang Mach-E electric crossover.


The longest period of time I was able to use Ford’s system without my hands during a test drive, mostly on I-75 and I-94 filled with construction in rural and urban areas. of Michigan, is 20 minutes and about 25 miles.

That’s a problem when you’re trying to reduce driver fatigue and increase driver confidence in such systems.

“It’s not enough to just let it trip randomly as you approach bends in the road,” said Sam Abuelsamid, principal analyst at Guidehouse Insights, which specializes in advanced and emerging automotive technologies.

Chris Billman, Ford’s chief engineer for vehicle system integration, ADAS, stressed that the company is being too cautious with its systems at this stage. Despite warnings to regain control, the system is designed to stay active until the driver takes over.

Billman says the system breaks down on most major highway bends because the system isn’t currently designed to slow down the vehicle before a bend — something Super Cruise debuted in 2017. That’s to be expected. expected to improve with the system’s next major update, which begins early next year.

Ford’s BlueCruise system is displayed on the driver information cluster of the F-150 pickup truck.


Ford could also improve the system’s interaction with the driver. GM uses a light bar on the steering wheel and communications in the driver’s cluster — the best communication feature of the three current systems.

That’s not to say Super Cruise isn’t still learning.

Both the Ford and GM systems have the potential to hit a temporary concrete construction fence if I don’t take over and relax on a major S-shaped road near Detroit.

Super Cruise and BlueCruise have both disconnected multiple times for seemingly no reason, only to reconnect quickly afterwards. Super Cruise also attempted to enter a crash lane or median in a recently completed construction area, while Ford’s performed a similar maneuver in the middle of a bend.

And of course, no system works on the street like Tesla’s.

Then there’s Tesla

Tesla’s technology is by far the most ambitious of the three and works well on the highway. But it can be nerve-wracking, if not dangerous, on city streets, especially during traffic jams.

Tesla vehicles that come standard with ADAS are called Autopilot. However, owners can upgrade the system with additional features for a fee. The Full Self-Driving (FSD) upgrade is currently $15,000 at the time of your vehicle purchase, or an opt-in monthly subscription later costs between $99 and $199 depending on the vehicle, according to to Tesla’s website.

I was able to use three Tesla levels of the system with different functions in a Tesla Model 3 produced in 2019. Driving with FSD Beta (version was one of those driving moments. most stressful times of my life (and I’ve had a lot!).

During limited highway testing, Tesla’s systems performed very well. The trip included automatic lane changes and navigation-based exits, although it did pass a stretch of exit due to traffic. GM and Ford are not currently affiliated with ADAS navigation.

Tesla’s ADAS can also identify traffic lights on the street and act accordingly, which is impressive.

One of my biggest problems with Tesla’s system on the highway is how often it asks me to “check in” – an act that requires pulling the wheel to prove that the driver is in the driver’s seat. and paying attention. The “registration” takes some getting used to so the system doesn’t crash.

Tesla FSD Beta — a test on public roads

I also struggled with the car’s communications about when the system was activated.

Unlike Ford and GM that prominently display when the system is active, the only sign that Tesla’s ADAS is working is a small steering wheel icon – smaller than a coin – in the upper left of the screen. center of the vehicle. (Tesla Model 3 does not have a display in front of the driver.)

That means to confirm if the system is working, the driver has to actually take his eyes off the road. And if the system disconnects, it won’t communicate very well, leaving the driver wondering when the system is working and worrying.

Such problems are even more prominent while FSD Beta is working on surface streets. In addition to highway problems, the system – as documented in countless YouTube videos – struggles with some bends.

Add in what locals call the “Michigan left” – a diagonal U-shaped turn – and the system becomes the equivalent of a young, if not dangerous, student driver. At one point while performing such maneuvers, the Tesla stopped not in one but three lanes as it attempted to turn before I passed the system.

On the straight, busy streets of suburban Detroit, Tesla’s system largely works. But it lacks the experience to recognize driver nuances, such as stopping to give way to others. It also had some trouble with lane changes and seemed to get lost without road markings.

All of these concerns are why no other company has released a system like Tesla’s FSD Beta, which has been criticized for using its customers as test mules. Tesla did not respond to a request for comment on this article.

CEO Elon Musk for several years have promised vehicles that will be fully self-driving. During a recent debate in response to a lawsuit filed in California, Tesla said that its “failure” to deliver on such an “ambitious, long-term goal” was not a waste of time. cheating and that it will only achieve fully autonomous driving “through continuous and rigorous improvement.”


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