I Drove Hundreds of Miles ‘Hands-Free’ in GM, Ford and Tesla Cars – Here’s How It Worked

The 2023 Lincoln Corsair will offer the company’s next-generation ActiveGlide hands-free advanced driver assistance system for highway driving including lane change, lane positioning and predictive cruise assist.


DETROIT – Giving up work is hard. Even if the big automakers want to make it easier.

Car companies are expanding technologies that can quickly control a car’s acceleration, braking, and steering. In some cases, allowing drivers to ease off the steering wheel or pedals for miles at a time.

The systems – formally known as Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) – have the potential to open up new revenue streams for businesses while relieving driver fatigue and improving safety on the road. But automakers have largely built their systems independently of each other, without industry standard guidelines from federal regulators. That means years of development, “hands-free” or “semi-autonomous” could mean something entirely different in the hands of competing automakers.

To be clear, no car for sale today is self-driving or self-driving. Drivers always need to be aware. Current ADAS mostly use a combination of cameras, sensors and map data to assist the driver as well as monitor the driver’s attention.

The automaker is often discussed alongside ADAS Tesla, which has a bunch of technologies it randomly calls “autopilot” and “full driving autonomous capability,” among other names. (Vehicles do not fully drive themselves). But general motorsAnd the Ford Motor Others rapidly release or improve their own systems and extend them to new vehicles.

I recently tested ADAS from Tesla, GM and Ford. Its systems are among the most dynamic and efficient on the market. However, none of them were anywhere near flawless during my time behind the wheel.

Even small differences between systems can have a significant impact on driver safety and confidence.

General Motors Super Cruise

I initially tested the GM system a decade ago on a closed track, and it’s clear the automaker’s years of developing Super Cruise have paid off in terms of overall performance, safety, and clear communication with the driver. It is the best performing and most consistent system.

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

The system allows drivers to operate “hands-free” when driving on more than 400,000 miles of pre-designated divided highways in the United States and Canada. (Ford maps 150,000 miles, and Tesla’s system works by default on any highway.)

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

Michael Weiland/CNBC

Super Cruise is the frontrunner when it comes to highway driving and can handle most challenges, including curves and many construction areas. Its latest update has also added automatic lane changes that work well to maintain a set speed by avoiding slower vehicles.

Over hundreds of miles of driving the system, I’ve been able to regularly engage Super Cruise for 30-plus minutes, even stretching one mission over an hour without ever having to control the vehicle. When Super Cruise is turned off, it will usually be available again minutes, if not seconds, later.

The majority of the issues you’ve encountered are likely due to outdated map data that the system requires to function, according to GM. When there’s newly finished construction or heavier temporary work being done, the GM system defaults to returning control back to the driver until the route is preset correctly.

GM says it has produced more than 40,000 Super Cruise-equipped vehicles, though not all of those account for active users, and has driven more than 45 million hands-free miles.

Pricing for the system varies based on vehicle and brand—$2,500 for a Cadillac, for example—and it carries a subscription cost of $25 per month or $250 per year after a free trial.

Ford Blue Cruise

Ford’s system is the newest of the three automakers and is similar to General Motors’. Besides the preset maps and capabilities mentioned, both systems feature in-vehicle infrared cameras to ensure drivers pay attention. But if the GM system is a capable and confident “driver”, then the Ford system is still a learning teenager, albeit very quickly.

Ford’s system—marketed as Ford BlueCruise and ActiveGlide for Lincoln—first became available in July 2021, though the company has already expanded the systems to more than 109,000 registered vehicles with more than 35 million miles of hands-free driving up to end of november

Ford system prices vary by brand and vehicle. It can be part of optional packages that cost around $2,000 and include other features for the 2023 Ford F-150 and Mustang Mach-E. Like GM, it requires a subscription after trial periods.

Also like GM, Ford’s system works well on the highways…until it doesn’t. It’s less predictable and specifically struggles with larger or steeper curves, construction zones and under other conditions a human driver can easily handle.

Ford BlueCruise as displayed on the Mustang Mach-E Crossover.


The longest I was able to use Ford’s hands-free system during my test drive, which was conducted largely on I-75 and construction-laden I-94s in rural and urban Michigan, was 20 minutes and about 25 miles.

This is an issue when you’re trying to relieve driver fatigue and increase drivers’ confidence in such systems.

“Haphazardly disengaging as you approach curves in the road, it’s just not good enough,” said Sam Abuelsamid, principal analyst at Guidehouse Insights, which specializes in advanced and emerging automotive technologies.

Chris Bellman, Ford’s chief ADAS vehicle systems integration engineer, confirmed that the company is being overly careful with its system at this point. Despite warnings to regain control, the system is designed to remain operational until the driver takes over the wheel.

The system breaks on most large highway curves because it’s not currently designed to slow the car before a turn—something that Super Cruise introduced in 2017, Bellman said. This is expected to be improved with the system’s next major update, which begins early next year.

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


Ford can also improve its system’s interactions with the driver. GM uses a light bar on the steering wheel and the communications in the driver’s cluster—the best connectivity features among the three existing systems.

This does not mean that Super Cruise has not learned yet.

The Ford and GM systems would probably hit a temporary concrete construction barrier if I hadn’t taken charge and ripped off a big S-curve near Detroit.

Super Cruise and BlueCruise have both broken up several times for what seemed like no reason, only to quickly re-engage afterwards. Super Cruise also attempted to blend into the avalanche or median lane of the newly completed construction zone, while Ford’s made a similar maneuver halfway through a curve.

And of course, neither system works on city streets like Tesla.

Then there is 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, specifically turning it into traffic.

Tesla cars come standard with the ADAS system known as Autopilot. However, owners can upgrade the system with additional features for a cost. A full self-driving (FSD) upgrade currently costs $15,000 at the time of car purchase, or a monthly subscription chosen later costs between $99 and $199 depending on the vehicle, according to Tesla’s website.

I was able to use three levels of the Tesla System with different functions on a Tesla Model 3 built in 2019. Driving with FSD Beta (v10.69.3.1) was among the most stressful driving moments of my life (and I’ve had it a lot!).

During a limited highway test, Tesla’s systems worked very well. The ride included automatic lane changes and a navigation-based exit, though it did go over one exit ramp due to traffic. GM and Ford do not currently connect the navigation system to ADAS.

Tesla’s ADAS can also identify traffic lights on city streets and act accordingly, which is very impressive.

One of my biggest issues with Tesla’s system on the highway was the number of times it asked me to “check in”—an action that required tugging at the steering wheel to prove the driver was physically in the driver’s seat and paying attention. Check-ins take some getting used to so the system doesn’t break.

I also experienced the car communicating about when the system was on.

Unlike Ford and GM which are prominently visible when the system is engaged, the only indication that Tesla’s ADAS is busy is the small steering wheel icon—smaller than a dime—at the top left of the car’s center display. (The Tesla Model 3 does not have driver-front displays.)

This means that to confirm whether the system is working or not, the driver must look away from the road. And if the system stops engaging, it doesn’t communicate very well, leaving the driver unaware of when the system is working and worrying them.

Issues like this were most impressive while the FSD Beta was working on the surface streets. In addition to the highway problems, the system – as documented in countless YouTube videos – struggles with certain turns.

Add in what’s known locally as a “Michigan left”—a mid-turn cross—and the system turns into the equivalent, if not dangerous, of a young driver. At one point while doing such a maneuver, the Tesla stopped across not one, but three lanes of traffic as it tried to make a turn before I overtook the system.

On the busy straight streets of the Detroit suburbs, the Tesla system worked pretty well. But she was inexperienced to recognize the nuances of a human driver like stopping to let others into a lane. It also had some difficulties changing lanes and seemed to get lost when the lane markers weren’t available.

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 for this article.

CEO Elon Musk has promised for several years that cars will be able to fully drive themselves. In a recent argument in response to a lawsuit filed in California, Tesla said its “failure” to achieve such an “ambitious long-term goal” did not amount to fraud and that it would only achieve full self-driving “through rigorous improvements.”

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