Japanese automakers moving ahead with autonomous cars (Report)

Several carmakers are working on autonomous vehicles, and it appears Japan’s three largest firms are among the committed. Nissan, Honda, and Toyota will all launch production models with some degree of autonomy by 2020, according to a new report.

Nissan is most aggressively pursuing the technology, according to Automotive News. The carmaker first announced plans to sell a self-driving car by 2020 back in 2013, and it showed a fully-autonomous electric car concept called the IDS at the recent 2015 Tokyo Motor Show. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn believes carmakers must take the lead in autonomous driving, or cede ground to tech companies.

“The tech companies will take as much space as we are ready to abandon,” Ghosn said. Google has been testing self-driving cars for years, Apple is widely rumored to be developing an autonomous car, and Uber has expressed interest in the technology as well, setting up a research lab dedicated to autonomous vehicles.

Japanese carmakers are reportedly being helped in their efforts by the national government, which is more willing to invest in vehicle-to-infrastructure communications systems that can aid self-driving cars. The 2020 deadline reportedly being targeted by Nissan, Honda, and Toyota coincides with the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Japan plans to use the Olympics as a technological showcase.

While Nissan has discussed its autonomous-car plans very publicly, and shown multiple prototypes over the past couple of years, Honda and Toyota have been quieter. Toyota recently announced a joint research effort with MIT and Stanford aimed at developing artificial intelligence, which the company sees as crucial to practical self-driving cars. It believes autonomous systems should complement drivers, rather than completely replace them.

Toyota only recently showed an autonomous prototype (a converted Lexus GS equipped with a system called “Mobility Teammate”), and hasn’t detailed production plans beyond the vague 2020 announcement. Honda reportedly wants to launch an automated highway-driving system by 2020, but hasn’t fleshed out specifics yet.

The big three Japanese carmakers aren’t the only ones looking into autonomous driving. Mercedes-Benz and Tesla have both promised to put fully-autonomous cars on sale in the near future. Tesla’s Autopilot system already allows some degree of autonomy, and Audi and Cadillac are expected to launch similar systems in the near future.