GM is taking the wraps off its prototype self-driving cars, a critical step for the automaker as it seeks to establish leadership in the hotly contested race to bring autonomous cars to market.
SAN FRANCISCO — For more than a year, General Motors has tantalized investors with plans to build its future around self-driving cars.
It has regularly announced big investments and progress reports, but the company has kept its prototype vehicles largely under wraps — until now.
On Thursday, GM will demonstrate its growing fleet of computer-operated, battery-powered Chevrolet Bolts in San Francisco to dozens of investment analysts, who are eager to evaluate the automaker’s advanced test vehicles.
The event represents a critical step for GM as it seeks to establish leadership in the hotly contested race to bring driverless cars to market.
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And although GM has been reluctant to show off the cars it has developed through a subsidiary, Cruise Automation, the company now wants to prove that self-driving models are getting closer to general use.
“Everything we are doing is geared to speed,” GM’s president, Daniel Ammann, told journalists at an event showcasing the cars Tuesday.
To emphasize the company’s progress, Ammann said the cars would be ready for consumer applications in “quarters, not years.”
Meeting that goal would probably give GM, the nation’s largest automaker, a jump on other companies developing self-driving models.
Industry analysts say autonomous vehicles could generate billions of dollars in additional revenue and profit for automakers and technology companies, primarily by selling or leasing them to ride-hailing services, taxi fleets and delivery companies.
For GM, the self-driving program is a cornerstone to long-term growth that is not dependent on simply selling vehicles to individual drivers.
“GM has changed the narrative of the company’s future,” Adam Jonas, a Morgan Stanley analyst, said in a research report Tuesday.
Other automakers, such as Ford Motor, Volkswagen and Toyota, are pushing to accelerate their own electric and autonomous-vehicle programs.
The field is also crowded with competitors from Silicon Valley, such as Google, Apple, Uber and the electric-carmaker Tesla.
GM has a blend of financial resources, automotive experience and management resolve that positions it strongly to compete with other automakers and…