Autonomous Nissans heading to Europe

The first tests will be conducted in London.

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Japanese carmaker Nissan is to officially start testing its self-driving car technology on European roads, starting in London.

Specially adapted Nissan Leaf electric cars will be rolling on to London’s roads starting February and will be following what the company describes as a “diverse city environment.” As well as testing the latest developments in autonomous driving technology, the project is being used to educate the car-buying public as to the capabilities and benefits that next such systems can bring.

Nissan will be inviting people to travel as passengers in the modified cars to get a first-hand taste of where the automotive industry is heading.

Announcing the project at its UK-based European R&D Centre on Friday, Paul Willcox, Chairman, Nissan Europe said: “In just a few weeks’ time, there will be Nissan LEAFs driving on the streets of London using our autonomous driving technology.”

Although the truly autonomous vehicle is still a decade away, cars that can take over the driving in situations such as motorway cruising or in dense, stop-start traffic situations will very soon be the norm. “Autonomous city driving is now expected to be a reality by 2020,” said Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn.

Premium car buyers are already getting a taste of this future. The latest generation BMWs, Mercedes, Volvos and Teslas feature systems that can keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front, maintain lane discipline, follow the curve of the road ahead, and autonomously stop when traffic quickly slows.

But demand for this technology is already moving to mainstream motoring. During his Detroit Auto Show press conference, Ghosn talked about the impact that offering a similar system on Nissan Serena minivans sold in Japan was having on sales. “So far 60% of Serena buyers have paid for this option,” he said.

As cars develop greater autonomy, roads will become safer and that is the short-term goal for all traditional automakers.

However, the long-term goal is to turn the car into a space where people have time to do other things. “In doing so we will offer our customers the most valuable gift of all: time. In fact, we call it the 25th hour,” said Audi’s head of sales and marketing Dr. Dietmar Voggenreiter, during his Detroit presentation. “Time given back to our customers through advanced technologies such as driver assistant systems and connectivity systems.”