Cruise Origin, a driverless EV that Cruise plans to use for ride-sharing. (Photo: courtesy of Cruise)

Cruise unveiled a six-passenger, electric, driverless vehicle in San Francisco Tuesday night, heralding it as the start of a new era of low-cost, shared transportation that will save the average household $5,000 a year.

Why it matters: With no steering wheel, pedals or gasoline engine, the boxy Cruise Origin, co-developed with Honda, represents "the transportation system you’d build, if you could start from scratch," according to Cruise CEO Dan Ammann, a former president of General Motors.

Yes, but: It's not clear how Cruise — which scrubbed plans to launch a robo-taxi service in San Fransisco in 2019 — would turn that vision into reality, much less a viable business.

  • Pressed for details later, Ammann said Cruise would scale up a ride-sharing business by offering "a better experience at a lower price than what you pay to get around today."
  • A typical Uber or Lyft ride costs about $2 per mile, he said, while a personally owned vehicle costs about $1 per mile. Cruise's goal is to offer shared rides that are even cheaper, causing people to gravitate toward its service to save as much as $5,000 a year.

The math is a bit sketchy and based on some unproven assumptions, but there are some intriguing nuggets:

  • Unlike most cars, which sit idle 95% of the day, the Origin would operate 24/7 and last for 1 million or more miles — about six times longer than a typical car.
  • It's based on General Motors' newest electric vehicle platform — the basis for 20 upcoming EVs by 2023 — which will help reduce costs, Ammann said.
  • "Since GM has committed to producing millions of electric vehicles, we’ll build it for roughly half the cost of what a conventional electric SUV costs today," he said, showing a photo of a Tesla Model X, which starts at $81,000.
  • GM, Cruise's majority shareholder, will build the Origin, but where and when production begins has yet to be announced.

Cruise shared some technology advancements as well.

  • The Origin features a new multi-layered sensor suite that is designed to keep track of multiple people and objects — even if they’re far away, in pitch-black, or hidden by rain or fog.
  • The pair of front-mounted sensor units, combining cameras, radar, lidar and thermal imaging technology, swivel like an owl's head to keep an eye on the environment, complementing other sensors mounted around the vehicle.
  • Cruise has been testing automated Chevrolet Bolt EVs in San Francisco for several years and is now close to matching human driving capability, said co-founder and president Kyle Vogt.
  • With its new sensors, he said, Cruise is "on track to crack the 'superhuman' threshold" soon and will be "well past that threshold by the time the Cruise Origin enters production."

What to watch: Aside from the substantial commercial and technical challenges that lie ahead, there are regulatory hurdles as well.

  • The Origin does not comply with current federal motor vehicle safety standards, which assume a human driver and thus require a steering wheel, foot pedals, mirrors and other features.
  • Ammann said the company is in discussions with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about a waiver.
  • And, while Cruise has a permit to test its autonomous vehicles on public roads in California, it does not have a license to charge people for rides in self-driving cars.

Go deeper: The autonomous vehicle cash grab

Go deeper

Trump signs bill to prevent government shutdown

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel and President Trump arrives at the U.S. Capitol in March. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

President Trump signed a bill to extend current levels of government funding into the new fiscal year, White House spokesperson Judd Deere confirmed early Thursday.

Driving the news: The Senate on Tuesday passed the legislation to fund the federal government through Dec. 11, by a vote of 84-10.

Editor's note: This is a developing news story. Please check back for updates.

Updated 25 mins ago - Science

In photos: Deadly wildfires devastate California's wine country

The Shady Fire ravages a home as it approaches Santa Rosa in Napa County, California, on Sept. 28. The blaze is part of the massive Glass Fire Complex, which has razed over 51,620 acres at 2% containment. Photo: Samuel Corum/Agence France-Presse/AFP via Getty Images

More than 1700 firefighters are battling 26 major blazes across California, including in the heart of the wine country, where one mega-blaze claimed the lives of three people and forced thousands of others to evacuate this week.

The big picture: More than 8,100 wildfires have burned across a record 39 million-plus acres, killing 29 people and razing almost 7,900 structures in California this year, per Cal Fire. Just like the deadly blazes of 2017, the wine country has become a wildfires epicenter. Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency in Napa, Sonoma, and Shasta counties.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 12:30 a.m. ET: 33,880,896 — Total deaths: 1,012,964 — Total recoveries: 23,551,663Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 12:30 a.m. ET: 7,232,823 — Total deaths: 206,887 — Total recoveries: 2,840,688 — Total tests: 103,939,667Map.
  3. Education: School-aged children now make up 10% of all U.S COVID-19 cases.
  4. Health: Moderna says its coronavirus vaccine won't be ready until 2021
  5. Travel: CDC: 3,689 COVID-19 or coronavirus-like cases found on cruise ships in U.S. waters — Airlines begin mass layoffs while clinging to hope for federal aid
  6. Business: Real-time data show economy's rebound slowing but still going.
  7. Sports: Steelers-Titans NFL game delayed after coronavirus outbreak.

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