Renault-Nissan CEO Calls for Consistent Regulations on Autonomous Cars

Thinking Highways
By Thinking Highways March 24, 2016 15:42

Renault-Nissan CEO Calls for Consistent Regulations on Autonomous Cars


Auto makers need to push regulators around the world for consistent rules to allow autonomous cars to proliferate, the chief executive of Renault SA and Nissan Motor Co. said Wednesday.

Carlos Ghosn, speaking at the New York International Auto Show, said he expects autonomous vehicles to become more commonplace in coming years, eventually changing lanes on highways and driving through cities on their own. His companies plan to offer 10 autonomous-drive models by 2020.

But differing regulations could present hurdles to clearing them for operation, he said.

“It’s very important that we…lobby in every single country with the regulatory authorities to take our eyes off the road and our hands off the wheel,” Mr. Ghosn said, noting that his companies are working with U.S. and Japanese regulators.

He made a distinction between autonomous vehicles and driverless cars, pointing to automobiles in the short term that will perform functions automatically while still requiring a driver at the wheel.

“We are not very excited about” cars without a driver, Mr. Ghosn said, adding that such vehicles, in underdeveloped countries with poor roads and other infrastructure, “would be an extremely dangerous concept.”

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration earlier this month released a report highlighting possible conflicts between driverless cars and existing auto-safety rules, such as requirements for brake pedals.

At the same time, the agency is working to develop standardized rule recommendations for states on autonomous vehicles.

John Krafcik, head of the self-driving car project at Alphabet Inc.’s Google unit, on Tuesday reiterated support for efforts to combat concerns over the patchwork of state rules that could complicate a driverless-car rollout. California, for instance, has proposed requiring drivers to get special licenses for autonomous vehicles and subjecting them to specific tests.

“It’s an auto maker’s biggest nightmare that you have one standard in California, a different standard in Wyoming and a different standard in Tennessee,” said Jim Lentz,Toyota Motor Corp.’s North American chief. “The standards need to be the same in all 50 states. Imagine in 2022 you have an autonomous vehicle that can be steering-wheel-less in Arizona and then you drive to California and California says you have to have a steering wheel.”

U.S. regulators have stressed their desire to speed automated-car adoption and make exceptions to rules for autonomous technologies as long as companies demonstrate they are safe.

The Obama administration has proposed spending nearly $4 billion in 10 years to spur automated vehicles.

Separately, Mr. Ghosn said he remains bullish on electric vehicles despite their relative low appeal as gasoline prices fall. More stringent emissions regulations in coming years will help pave the way for electric vehicles, he said. “One major response has to be electrification,” he added.

Mr. Ghosn said there “is a lot of curiosity” among car makers about Google and Apple getting into the industry, but he doesn’t believe they’re aiming to become manufacturers. “If any one of the two wanted to become a car maker, they could do it,” he said, referring to their giant balance sheets and ability to acquire an existing auto maker. “I don’t think it’s that. They would have done it already.”

They’re fast, powerful, and the most expensive sports cars at the 2016 New York International Auto Show. And the priciest one may surprise you. Photo: Jeff Bush/The Wall Street Journal

He expressed skepticism on ride-sharing despite forays from other auto makers, such as General Motors Co., which recently invested in car-hailing company Lyft Inc. “We’re a little bit skeptical on how much of a trend it’s going to be.”

Mr. Ghosn said government officials in poorer countries and other emerging markets should decide whether to require car companies to equip vehicles with air bags and other standard safety features. Nissan began offering air bags on certain top-end Datsun vehicles in India last year amid criticism from safety advocates that they lacked the feature. “It’s not up to us to decide what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable,” Mr. Ghosn said. “It’s up to the regulators to decide.”

U.S. auto sales, meanwhile, should rise again this year after hitting a record 17.5 million cars and light trucks in 2015, Mr. Ghosn said, dismissing suggestions the market hit a ceiling. “It’s politically correct to say there is a plateau,” he said.

Mr. Ghosn said auto makers’ forecasts for 2015 sales weren’t high enough. He added forecasts in the U.S. and Europe are once again too cautious amid low gasoline prices and interest rates, while acknowledging car makers do better to prepare for worse results and enjoy good times when they materialize.

“Everybody’s sandbagging,” Mr. Ghosn said. “The industry as a whole has never been as healthy as it is now.”

Thinking Highways
By Thinking Highways March 24, 2016 15:42