Volvo Plans to Sell Car With Self-Driving Capability by 2021

Volvo_XC90_Drive_Me_test_vehicle.jpg Volvo XC90 Drive Me self-driving test vehicle | Manufacturer image

CARS.COM — Volvo plans to have for sale a self-driving vehicle by 2021, matching the ambitious timetable recently announced by rival BMW.

“It’s our ambition to have a car that can drive fully autonomously on the highway by 2021,” Volvo CEO Hakan Samuelsson said in an interview with Bloomberg News.

Related: What’s the Future of Autonomous Driving?

Samuelsson explained the company is looking for technology partners to help develop the cars’ complex systems. “This technology is something as a carmaker you cannot develop by yourself,” he said.

Earlier this month, BMW announced its goal of a self-driving car for sale by 2021 jointly with two partners, tech giant Intel and camera-chip and software maker Mobileye. BMW CEO Harald Krüger said at the time, “Our goal is already clearly defined: to be number one in autonomous driving.”

Volvo already has been working on a test of self-driving vehicles. Its Drive Me program, developed in a partnership that includes the Swedish government, would put 100 XC90 SUVs with self-driving features on roads around Gothenburg, Sweden for testing in 2017. The plan also has been expanded to include testing in Britain and China.

Volvo says development of such technology fits into its goal of zero deaths and serious injuries in a new Volvo by 2020. BMW and its partners also emphasized the safety benefits of autonomous features.

But the safety of autonomous driving systems has been much debated in the wake of a fatal crash of a Tesla in which the driver was using his car’s Autopilot system. The crash is under investigation by Tesla and regulators. In the news today:

  • GM CEO Mary Barra said that to prove the technology and build consumer trust, test deployments of the first fully autonomous vehicles likely would include “safety drivers” ready to take control, according to a report by The Detroit News. She noted, however, that she believes the autonomous car guidelines due next month from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will aid development and testing. “We believe that they will start with a safety driver in the vehicle, which I think provides that extra layer of attention as we not only prove and validate the technology, but then demonstrate to consumers the safety of technology. “
  • A pair of experts interviewed on CNBC’s “Power Lunch” warned that with partially self-driving vehicles on roads now, we are in the most dangerous period in the transition to autonomous driving. “To get to fully autonomous car world, we have to get through this scary period that we’re in, which is the partially autonomous car,” said Mary Cummings, head of Duke University Robotics “The expectation is the driver will intervene occasionally or maybe even rarely, and that is the worst time to expect a human to intervene. “Richard Wallace, research director at the Center for Automotive Research, added that since people keep their cars a long time, once driverless cars become available, there will be a long transition time of mixed traffic. “That’s the scariest evolutionary period.”


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Former D.C. Bureau Chief Fred Meier, who lives every day with Washington gridlock, has an un-American love of small wagons and hatchbacks. Email Fred Meier

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