Nissan CEO: Self-driving cars could hit roads in 4 years

Successful tests complete; legislation the hold-up

PARIS - Once the stuff of science fiction, the self-driving car could be on American roads in four years, according to the leader of one of the world’s largest auto manufacturing groups.

The only roadblock? Red tape.

“The problem isn’t technology, it’s legislation,” said Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Renault-Nissan, at a French Automobile Club event on Tuesday. Ghosn predicted the controversial cars could hit the road in 2018 in “pioneer countries,” like the United States, France and Japan.

Several carmakers including Renault, Tesla and Volvo have been working on driverless vehicles for a few years. While those companies gear up prototypes, other companies have run successful tests recently.

Mercedes-Benz tested a self-driving S class limousine in Germany last August. In 2012, Google ran their own autonomous car in Nevada. The technology corporation’s latest model has no gas pedal, no brake and no steering wheel, according to a blog post from their website in May.

“We’ll have two seats, a space for passengers’ belongings, buttons to start and stop, and a screen that shows the route -- and that’s about it,” wrote Chris Urmson, director of Google’s Self-Driving Car Project.



Currently, four states plus the District of Columbia allow testing of self-driving vehicles on their roads. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation in Dec. 2013 adding his state to the list. His staff members described the move as a no-brainer for the home of Ford and General Motors.

“We are the global center of the auto industry,” said Dave Murray, Snyder’s deputy press secretary, in an interview Thursday. “Why not have it developed right here in Michigan?”

Murray agreed with Ghosn that the driverless car revolution is inevitable at this point.

“These things are going to happen, so why not use the talent we have here in Michigan to help it along,” Murray asked.

Ghosn told his audience the key question regarding legislation of these robotic chariots is a matter of responsibility should a crash happen. “Especially, who is responsible once there is no longer anyone inside,” Ghosn wondered.

The U.S. Department of Transportation will be tasked with writing rules once the vehicles become available to consumers. In 2012, Google cofounder Sergey Brin predicted that those legal guidelines could be written as early as 2017.

“You can count on one hand the number of years it will take before ordinary people can experience this,” Brin said.

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