Nissan Won’t Wait for 2020 to Begin Rolling Out Autonomous Technologies, Says Ghosn

Carlos Ghosn

Bet­ting on huge demand from motorists in the world’s increas­ing­ly crowd­ed mega-cities, Nis­san CEO Car­los Ghosn has laid out an aggres­sive timetable for bring­ing the maker’s autonomous vehi­cles to mar­ket.

Even before the first of those self-dri­ving cars goes on sale in 2020, said Ghosn, Nis­san will launch new tech­nolo­gies, such as auto­mat­ed lane con­trols and high­way traf­fic man­age­ment sys­tems that will begin to sup­ple­ment the dri­ver behind the wheel.

Nis­san is aim­ing to take the lead in the devel­op­ment of autonomous tech­nolo­gies but is like­ly to face a bat­tle as oth­er automak­ers enter the field – as well as tech giant Google which will begin launch­ing field tests this year of a new pro­to­type self-dri­ving vehi­cle it has devel­oped.

The race could find a will­ing pub­lic, accord­ing to a new study by Nav­i­gant Research fore­cast­ing annu­al sales of autonomous vehi­cles could reach 95 mil­lion by 2035. “By the end of 2016, Nis­san will make avail­able the next two tech­nolo­gies under its autonomous dri­ve strat­e­gy,” said Mr. Ghosn.

“We are bring­ing to mar­ket a traf­fic-jam pilot, a tech­nol­o­gy enabling cars to dri­ve autonomous­ly – and safe­ly – on con­gest­ed high­ways,” he explained. “In the same time­frame, we will make ful­ly-auto­mat­ed park­ing sys­tems avail­able across a wide range of vehi­cles.”

Last year, Nissan’s glob­al prod­uct chief Andy Palmer revealed the maker’s goal of putting its first ful­ly self-dri­ving vehi­cle into pro­duc­tion by 2020. It is already demon­strat­ing that capa­bil­i­ty with pro­to­type Leaf elec­tric vehi­cles out­fit­ted with an array of cam­era, radar, laser and sonar sen­sors. But it is already equip­ping some of its prod­ucts with some of the basic tech­nolo­gies that will be part of a ful­ly autonomous car.

That includes the steer-by-wire sys­tem on the new Infini­ti Q50 that elim­i­nates the tra­di­tion­al, mechan­i­cal link between the steer­ing wheel and the tires. (There is, how­ev­er, a back­up sys­tem in case the sedan los­es pow­er.)

The traf­fic jam and auto­mat­ed park­ing sys­tems will be fol­lowed in 2018 by the intro­duc­tion of what Ghosn described as “mul­ti­ple-lane con­trols,” dur­ing a speech to the For­eign Cor­re­spon­dents Club of Japan.

This sys­tem, he explained, will allow “cars to autonomous­ly nego­ti­ate haz­ards and change lanes. And before the end of the decade, we will intro­duce inter­sec­tion-auton­o­my, enabling vehi­cles to nego­ti­ate city cross-roads with­out dri­ver inter­ven­tion.”

While there are plen­ty of skep­tics who still ques­tion the poten­tial for autonomous vehi­cles, more and more automak­ers are enter­ing the field, as well as indus­try sup­pli­ers and tech giant Google, which plans to roll out a fleet of 100 pro­to­types, many of which won’t even have back-up con­trols, such as a steer­ing wheel or brake.

For his part, Ghosn said there are four key trends that should dri­ve demand for autonomous vehi­cles:

  • The rise of mega-cities where traf­fic con­ges­tion is mak­ing it increas­ing­ly dif­fi­cult to dri­ve;
  • Ris­ing demand for con­nect­ed vehi­cles;
  • A “gen­er­a­tion gap,” with younger buy­ers demand­ing tech­nolo­gies that will ensure their safe­ty while dri­ving;
  • A need to “embrace gen­der diver­si­ty,” women also seek­ing safer, high-tech vehi­cles.

Whether Nis­san will meet Ghosn’s goal of lead­ing the mar­ket for self-dri­ving vehi­cles remains to be seen, but the new Nav­i­gant study sug­gests there’ll be oppor­tu­ni­ty for all as the tech­nol­o­gy becomes not just a niche but trans­forms into the dom­i­nant form of auto­mo­tive trans­porta­tion. By 2035, Nav­i­gant antic­i­pates automak­ers around the world will sell 94.7 mil­lion self-dri­ving vehi­cles annu­al­ly. That num­ber is greater than the entire mar­ket for auto­mo­biles today.

“Com­bi­na­tions of advanced dri­ver assis­tance fea­tures that can enable semi-autonomous dri­ving are now being brought to mar­ket for the first time,” says David Alexan­der, senior research ana­lyst with Nav­i­gant Research. “The cost reduc­tions brought about by increas­ing vol­umes and tech­no­log­i­cal advances make the instal­la­tion of the mul­ti­ple sen­sors nec­es­sary for such capa­bil­i­ty fea­si­ble.”

In fact, the research firm says that the key obsta­cles to wide­spread sales of autonomous vehi­cles are not tech­no­log­i­cal. Instead, they “relate to lia­bil­i­ty, reg­u­la­tion, and leg­is­la­tion.”

Indeed, Nissan’s Palmer last year warned that the U.S. may not be the first to get autonomous vehi­cles on the road because of its com­bat­ive legal sys­tem.

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