The announcement was made by CEO Carlos Ghosn at the company's US headquarters in Irvine, CA. Nissan has already begun construction of a dedicated proving ground for the self-driving cars in Japan, with completion targeted for the end of 2014.
Teaming with MIT, Stanford, Oxford and others, Nissan has already outfitted Leaf EVs with the Autonomous Drive (Nissan's brand name for the tech), a suite of new technologies developed from the brand's existing Safety Shield technology. The current iteration of Autonomous Drive uses the Around-View Monitoring system and laser scanners to analyze the environment, while artificial intelligence systems have been installed to help navigate and operate in a changing environment.
While it's easy to say that Nissan will bring the technology to market within the next six or seven years, it's more difficult to say at what price Autonomous Drive will be available. Most remarkable about all of this is Nissan's claim that self-driving cars will be both commercially viable and available at "realistic prices for consumers." It's expecting Autonomous Drive to be available across its range within two vehicle generations.
Nissan's motivation rests largely with the number of accidents that happen on US roads alone each year - six million accidents that cost consumers $160 million and kill more people between the ages of four and 34 than anything else. Considering the overwhelming majority of those accidents are caused by human error, this tech seems like a great idea.
Carlos Ghosn demonstrated Nissan's resolve towards bringing the tech to market, saying, "In 2007 I pledged that – by 2010 – Nissan would mass market a zero-emission vehicle. Today, the Nissan Leaf is the best-selling electric vehicle in history. Now I am committing to be ready to introduce a new ground-breaking technology, Autonomous Drive, by 2020, and we are on track to realize it." Those are some bold words, but what Nissan is promising now is far more complex than a new drivetrain. We look forward to seeing what it comes up with.