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Nissan's Ghosn Now Says Robocar Sales Could Start in 2018

That shaves two years off his estimate last year, which itself raised a lot of eyebrows

2 min read
Nissan's Ghosn Now Says Robocar Sales Could Start in 2018
Photo: Nissan

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).

The Conversation (0)
This photo shows a parked Land Rover that is plugged into a Tesla charging station.

This vintage Land Rover Defender has been refitted with an electric powertrain, one originally designed for a Tesla.

E.C.D. Automotive Design

From the outside, this Land Rover Defender looks like any other example of the postwar British classic that conquered the African outback—and the automotive world’s heart. But when I step on the accelerator, my own heart jumps. The Defender charges like a lioness on a wildebeest’s scent, slaying 60 miles per hour (almost 100 kilometers per hour) in about 5 seconds. That acceleration is so out of character for this doughty old truck, and so fun, that I’m forced to do it again.

Clearly, that’s no lazy Rover diesel chugging below the hood—or even a Chevrolet V-8, a current go-to engine for vintage-car fans seeking a contemporary edge. This Defender, known for raiding tombs, has raided Tesla’s temple of tech.

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