DETROIT — Autopilot. The name connotes a futuristic vision, the automotive equivalent of soaring carefree through open skies.
Contrast that with Super Cruise, which suggests an enhanced version of cruise control, relief from road-trip tedium, like a good audiobook.
The two brand names reflect the diverging visions of autonomy that Tesla Inc. and General Motors are offering today's consumers: Tesla's Autopilot, defined by a promise to stretch the boundaries of technology, vs. GM's Super Cruise, characterized by the limits it places on both man and machine.
Which vision consumers embrace could have broad implications for how quickly and aggressively autonomous technology is deployed across the industry. And the events of recent weeks and months are sure to shape that conversation.
Autopilot — released as a beta technology in 2015 — has come under growing scrutiny following a string of crashes involving Tesla vehicles with the system engaged and reports of drivers misusing the system, including a Briton who was punished for sitting in the passenger seat while Autopilot guided his car.
Federal investigators looking into a fatal crash in California in March determined that an Autopilot-guided Tesla Model X sped up to 71 mph in the seconds before it slammed into a highway barrier, Bloomberg reported last week, and the driver's hands were off the wheel. Safety advocates have pointed to the Autopilot name as a risk factor, given its well-known meaning in the aviation context.
Super Cruise, meanwhile, has experienced little to no controversy since launching last year on the 2018 Cadillac CT6. GM markets it as a limited-scope "hands-free" driving technology but avoids any comparisons to systems used on airplanes.
The smooth launch allowed GM to announce last week that the technology will grow across Cadillac's lineup beginning in 2020, followed by GM's other brands. GM product chief Mark Reuss, announcing the plans here at the Intelligent Transportation Society of America conference, called Super Cruise "a giant leap" along the path to true autonomous vehicles.