In the race to bring autonomous driving to market, the Renault-Nissan Alliance is hoping to gain a lead – if not by being first then by offering more self-driving cars than the competition.
The Euro-Asian partners plan to launch “more than 10” vehicles equipped with self-driving technology by 2020, adding that the goal is to go mainstream, with affordable, mass-market products.
“Renault-Nissan Alliance is deeply committed to the twin goals of ‘zero emissions and zero fatalities,'” CEO Carlos Ghosn said during a visit to the Renault-Nissan Silicon Valley Research Center. “That’s why we are developing autonomous driving and connectivity for mass-market, mainstream vehicles on three continents.”
Long the stuff of science fiction, automakers are rapidly transforming autonomous technology into a reality. A wide range of current products already offer the precursors of self-driving technology, systems like forward collision warning with auto braking, and Lane Keeping Assist. Tesla recently introduced its semi-autonomous AutoPilot system, capable of hands-free driving on a well-marked, limited-access highway.
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Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Cadillac – and Nissan – all plan to steadily expand the capabilities of their vehicles by decade’s end. But going from semi-autonomous to full hands-free driving is still a significant challenge, and there is widespread debate over just how soon that can happen.
During a presentation at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, Gill Pratt, the new head of the Toyota Research Institute – charged with developing advanced mobility technology – said he was not ready to predict when the Japanese giant would have its own autonomous system on the road.
Kia officials laid out their timetable at a separate CES event, but they don’t expect to be able to handle full autonomy until 2030.
Nissan was the first automaker to formally announce an autonomous vehicle target – 2020. And CEO Ghosn has repeatedly said the company, along with partner Renault, remains on track. But his announcement in Silicon Valley takes things a big step beyond, revealing plans to outfit a wide range of products, not just a single vehicle.
(Click Here for details on Kia’s plans to phase-in autonomous vehicles.)
Nissan has been using a version of the Leaf battery-electric vehicle as a “mule” for testing autonomous technology. It has hinted that the second-generation Leaf will be the first model out of the blocks.
As with its competitors, Nissan plans to phase in self-driving, starting this year with what it calls “single lane control.” That system, it explains, “allows cars to drive autonomously on highways, including in heavy, stop-and-go traffic.”
Nissan will add more features, including connected-car technology, in 2017 and 2018.
Safety experts believe autonomous driving could yield massive benefits, noting that more than 90% of all highway fatalities result from driver error. Some proponents believe the technology could effectively eliminate highway deaths. Others are more cautious, warning there will always be some crashes.
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“Zero accidents will never happen,” cautions Amnon Shashua, founder and CEO of Israeli-based Mobileye, which supplies camera-based systems to the auto industry. But he believes such technology could reduce the number of U.S. highway fatalities by “three orders of magnitude,” to perhaps 300 deaths a year, down from more than 30,000 today.