Last August Carlos Ghosn, chief executive of Nissan, said he'd start selling self-driving cars by 2020, which I then called a "big, fat promise." Now Ghosn is fattening it by revising the date to 2018.
As I noted the first time around, Ghosn has won such bets in the past. He got the Leaf, the world's first modern an all-electric car, into showrooms just when he said he would.
He didn't support his new estimate by referring to any particular technical advances made in the past 10 months. Instead, he spoke of new wiggle room in the regulatory world, which he called the real roadblock.
"The problem isn't technology, it's legislation, and the whole question of responsibility that goes with these cars moving around ... and especially who is responsible once there is no longer anyone inside," Ghosn said at a French Automobile Club event on Tuesday, Reuters reports.
He added that he expected sales to come first in "pioneer" countries like Japan, the United States, and France (mais, bien sûr). German automakers, which are charging ahead with autonomous tech, might quibble with that roster. So might Volvo, based in Sweden but belonging now to a Chinese parent company.
An example of new wiggle room came earlier this year when the United Nations approved of letting drivers take their hands off the wheel of an autonomous vehicle. It may lack the force of law, but it's a bureaucratic baby step in the right direction. Today's semiautonomous Mercedes S class, for instance, must obey what might be called a ten-second rule: Take your hand off the wheel for that long, and a car alarm goes off.
There are other ways of getting around regulations. Google recently said it was experimenting with a tiny robocar that has no steering wheel at all, which it justifies on the grounds that the car is small, soft, squishable and slow, hewing to a self-imposed speed limit of 40 kilometers per hour (25 mph).
Philip E. Ross became a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum in June 2006. His interests include transportation, energy storage, artificial intelligence, natural-language processing, and the economic aspects of technology. He has reported on solar towers in Spain, cloud seeding in Nevada, telescopes atop a mountain in the Canaries, and robotic cars in California and Germany. He blogs mainly for Cars That Think, which won a 2015 Neal Award. Earlier in his career he worked for Red Herring, Forbes, Scientific American, and The New York Times. He has a master's degree in international affairs from Columbia University and another, in journalism, from the University of Michigan.