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December 9, 2020 5:00 PM, EST

GMC Sierra Goes Hands-Free

A GMC Sierra Denali truck seen in Chula Vista, Calif. The GMC Sierra Denali truck is displayed at an event in Chula Vista, Calif., in January of 2019. (Sandy Huffaker/Bloomberg News)

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Self-driving technology is coming to a pickup truck near you.

GMC says it will offer its hands-free driver-assistance feature Super Cruise on its Sierra pickup sometime in 2022. While the Sierra will not be the first GMC product to option the award-winning technology — that honor will go to the Hummer EV in 2021 — the Sierra is by far the highest-volume GM product to receive the technology thus far.

The Sierra joins a rush of semi-autonomous trucks coming to market over the next two years, including the Ford F-150, Rivian R1T and Tesla Cybertruck.

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Ford’s Active Drive Assist — a hands-free system similar to Super Cruise — is available for GMorder on the all-new 2021 Ford F-150, which has been the best-selling truck in America. The F-150 is due to arrive on dealer lots in the third quarter of next year. Super Cruise will debut on Sierra’s premium Denali trim, and will function while towing.

“We’re putting Super Cruise on a Sierra. [It’s] the world’s first true, hands-free driver-assistance tech available pretty much across the United States,” GMC marketing executive Phil Brook said. So it won’t “just be in the big cities [but] in every state because … Sierra, it’s such a popular vehicle.”

Super Cruise debuted in the low-volume, now-discontinued Cadillac CT6 in 2016 and is slowly being expanded to the full Cadillac lineup. But the entire Cadillac brand typically sells just 150,000 units in a typical year, whereas Sierra alone typically sells 220,000. The low-volume, battery-powered Chevrolet Bolt EUV (an SUV companion to the Bolt EV hatchback) will also get Super Cruise when it goes into production next year.

Super Cruise and Tesla’s hands-free Autopilot are the leading semi-autonomous systems on the market. But unlike Autopilot, Super Cruise only works on divided highways, where GM believes it is safest and most practical. Ford will debut a similar system next year on its Ford F-150 and electric Mustang Mach E.

GM’s Super Cruise (and Ford’s Active Drive Assist) use a camera and infrared lights to ensure the driver is paying attention to the road. Along with GPS mapping and radar sensors, this allows vehicles to drive hands-free on divided highways across North America. While the Tesla Autopilot system prompts drivers every 30 seconds or so to keep their hands on the wheel, the Super Cruise system allows the driver to relax hands-free. Super Cruise only intervenes with escalating alerts if it detects the driver’s eyes aren’t looking ahead and paying attention to the road.

Autopilot debuted on Tesla’s Model S sedan in 2014 and has grown in ambition with over-the-air updates. It pioneered automatic lane-change capability in 2018 and is now capable of stopping for traffic lights and negotiating stop signs and pedestrians. GM has charted a more conservative path by limiting the feature to highways, and will introduce automatic lane-change next year. Its conservative approach earned it the prize for best driver-assistance system this year from Consumer Reports.

Available on select, higher-trim Cadillac models beginning next year, the Super Cruise option is about $2,500, but should cost less on the high-profit Sierra. On the F-150 and Mach E, expect Ford’s system to cost about $1,600. The brands will charge monthly subscription costs on top of that.

Industry analysts say that the Super Cruise take-rate on the Cadillac CT6 was about 30%. If that number holds on the Sierra, it should put nearly 70,000 vehicles on the road a year beginning in 2022 with hands-free capability.

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