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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).

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We Need More Than Just Electric Vehicles

To decarbonize road transport we need to complement EVs with bikes, rail, city planning, and alternative energy

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A worker works on the frame of a car on an assembly line.

China has more EVs than any other country—but it also gets most of its electricity from coal.

VCG/Getty Images

EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

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