Nissan Motor Co. intends to have multiple self-driving vehicles ready for retail sale in 2020.
Nissan wants to be a leader in the move to make cars safer by adding electronic systems capable of preventing accidents and injuries. Similarly, the systems can reduce traffic jams by rerouting vehicles, which helps curb CO2 emissions.
“We will be able to bring multiple, affordable fully autonomous vehicles to the market by 2020,” Andy Palmer, Nissan’s executive vice president, told reporters at a briefing in Irvine, California. Such systems mean “frustrating and unproductive commutes could become a thing of the past,” he said.
Technology underpinning autonomous autos, including adaptive cruise control, electronic steering and throttle controls, is already available, and added sensors and road- monitoring capabilities are being refined, Palmer said.
“The technology to create self-driving cars is already here,” said Karl Brauer, senior industry analyst for Kelley Blue Book. “As sci-fi as it sounds, self-driving cars that don’t ever crash, reduce traffic congestion and make valet attendants obsolete are coming.”
Nissan has been working on self-driving vehicles for years at its Japanese research centers, and now plans to step up its investment in the technology, including a new proving ground dedicated to autonomous vehicles. The company also recently opened an advanced technology center in California’s Silicon Valley that is working on autonomous vehicles.
Other automakers also are working on self-driving vehicles, but many proponents say that significant hurdles — including government safety regulations — remain before the vehicles can go to market.
Nissan’s announcement is carefully worded to say that it will have vehicles ready in 2020 — not that the cars will be in Nissan showrooms. The difference is regulatory uncertainty.
Before any automaker can put self-driving cars on the road, a host of regulators will have to agree on the rules. Issues surrounding the science are far from resolved in 2013.
One typical question: What happens to an autonomous car during a driving emergency? Engineers say the vehicle will signal the driver to take over manual control of the vehicle. If the driver is temporarily incapacitated and can’t re-take control, the vehicle will be forced to stop. In such an event, there will have to be specific regulatory guidelines for moving a disabled car to safety on roads of every condition and description.
Other unresolved issues involve insurance policies, law enforcement and vehicle communications technology.
“We’re saying that we have the technology and we will be ready to market in 2020,” says Dave Reuter, Nissan Americas spokesman. “There will be an ongoing maturation of the technologies over the next few years.”
Reuter added: “We will have a fully functioning test track in operation by the end of our next fiscal year that will be dedicated to this field. And the more miles we put on our test vehicles, the more knowledge we will gather to be ready.”
Nissan is designing its technology in-house, though it’s willing to work with companies including Google, which has been promoting driverless car systems in recent years.
“I don’t preclude the possibility of working with Google – – or anyone else for that matter,” said Palmer, who leads vehicle development. Nissan has contacts with Google on various matters, he said, without elaborating.
Nissan has sold more than 75,000 Leaf electric vehicles worldwide since late 2010. Including alliance partner Renault, they have delivered about 100,000 electric cars.