Whatever happened to Ultra Cruise, GM’s hands-free driving assistance tech intended to be a step above Super Cruise? Three years after rolling out Super Cruise on the Cadillac CT6 in 2017, a GM VP spoke of a product called Ultra Cruise that “would be all of the Super Cruise plus the neighborhoods, city streets and subdivisions. So Ultra Cruise’s domain would be essentially all driving, all the time.” The qualifier “essentially” was clarified a year later to mean 95% of normal driving situations whenever the technology launched. To start, the system was planned to be compatible with more than two million miles of U.S. and Canadian roads and expand from there. Originally, Ultra Cruise would be GM’s competitor for Tesla’s Full Self Driving, separated by price point like any other luxury feature (Tesla’s FSD costs $12,000 compared to Enhanced Autopilot’s $6,000). The VP said, “The combination of Ultra Cruise for premium offerings and Super Cruise for lower-cost products will enable us to offer driver-assist technology across price points and segments.”
Then, essentially, crickets, until a CNBC report this month that stated, “Two sources familiar with the system told CNBC that the automaker is ending the Ultra Cruise program. One source said GM has decided to instead focus on the current Super Cruise system and expanding its capabilities rather than having two different, similarly named systems.”
Considering GM’s — and the industry’s — challenges with electric vehicles and EV technology, and GM’s issues with a different kind of Cruise (GM’s autonomous car development division), the CNBC piece could have given the idea that the automaker was walking back ambitious goals for driver assistance tech and a face-off with Full Self Driving. That’s not the case. GM explained to a number of outlets that nothing substantial has changed except the name; that is, instead of two teams working on two hands-free systems, one more capable than the other, GM’s putting its money into expanding what Super Cruise can do.
GM never provided a date for Ultra Cruise’s rollout. The automaker’s already working on the soft points of expanded hands-free driving, launching a public awareness and dealership instruction campaign last July called “Hands Free, Eyes On,” trying to get vehicle owners to understand the limits of the tech. The closest we got for Ultra Cruise availability was GM saying the $340,000 Cadillac Celestiq would be the first product so equipped. Even with that, we were told Ultra Cruise wouldn’t be available at the electric sedan’s launch, instead being ladled into the Celestiq’s tech suite via OTA updates. As far as we can tell, the Celestiq is getting the same Super Cruise found in other GM products. Based on the Super Cruise’s current capabilities of more than 400,000 miles of roads in the U.S. and Canada, and Ultra Cruise’s aim of more than two million miles — that include the hardest kind to drive, city miles — there could be a long road and a lot of updates to get from the former to the latter. And that makes sense — better to get it right.