Flagging off the autonomous car race with a 2020 vision

Updated: 2016-08-26 06:42

By Deng Yanzi(HK Edition)

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The race for autonomous car development is ever more intense, as traditional automakers are joined by internet companies to compete in the automobile space, but the latest partnership between Volvo and Uber shows they can also collaborate in this game.

Last week, Volvo Car Group announced a $300-million alliance with car-hailing company Uber to develop autonomous cars.

The partnership will reduce the costs of developing self-driving technology for Volvo and also boost sales volumes, as the tech company will use Volvo cars as the base vehicle in this project, according to Hakan Samuelsson, Volvo chief executive.

"This alliance places Volvo at the heart of the current technological revolution in the automotive industry," says Samuelsson.

The alliance marks the latest move by Volvo in its endeavor to develop autonomous cars, which will play a key role in turning the company's ambitious Vision 2020 into reality, Lars Danielson, Volvo's senior vice-president and chief executive of the company's China operations, tells China Daily.

The company's Vision 2020 aims to eliminate deaths and serious injuries in Volvo cars in 2020.

To further boost customer confidence, Volvo has also said it will take full responsibility for accidents in its autonomous cars when in autopilot mode.

Volvo's reputation and commitment to safety is one of the main reasons Uber chooses to collaborate with the Swedish automaker.

"Volvo is a leader in vehicle development and best-in-class when it comes to safety," says Travis Kalanick, Uber's chief executive. "By combining the capabilities of Uber and Volvo, we will get to the future faster, together."

While Uber will use Volvo's XC90 SUV model as the base vehicle to eventually achieve driverless taxis for passengers, Volvo will use the model to continue its own development of its ADAS (advanced driver assistance system) that will still involve a driver behind the wheel.

"We are not in the business of offering driverless cars. Volvo should always be fun, to drive," Danielson emphasizes.

"There will be situations where you could really benefit from autonomous driving, but we are not there yet. We are offering very advanced pilot assist, but the drivers need to be in control and have their hands on the steering wheel."

Volvo's development of self-driving technology, known as the "Drive Me" project, is on the way to achieve its goal to run a public test with real customers next year, on the roads of the carmaker's home country Sweden, as well as experiments in the UK and China.

The company has tested the system on a small scale in various locations, including suburban Beijing, last year.

Currently on the market, Volvo's XC90 model is already adopting a semi-autonomous system with an auto brake function and auto parking assistance. Launched in 2014, the model is the only level-two autonomous car in mass production.

The self-driving technology, together with other disruptive trends, including data-driven and connectivity services, could expand the revenue pool by 30 percent for the automative industry, adding up to over $1.5 trillion a year industry-wide by 2030, a recent McKinsey study forecasts.

However, fully autonomous automobiles eagerly sought after by major players in the automotive industry may still be a far flung future.

"There's a lot of investment in this area but it's important to be clear that the reality is we are still in the research phase," Danielson admits.

(HK Edition 08/26/2016 page8)