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Nissan debuts ProPilot as similar Tesla system faces scrutiny

Wednesday, July 13, 2016 - 11:22
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Nissan Motor Co introduced driver-assist features that enable its newest minivan to handle some highway driving on its own, just as a similar system from electric-car maker Tesla Motors Inc comes under scrutiny following a number of crashes.

[TOKYO] Nissan Motor Co introduced driver-assist features that enable its newest minivan to handle some highway driving on its own, just as a similar system from electric-car maker Tesla Motors Inc comes under scrutiny following a number of crashes.

The technology, available in the new Serena model on sale in Japan next month, renders the minivan capable of accelerating, braking and navigating highway stop-and-go traffic in a single lane. Called ProPilot, the system sends warnings when drivers take their hands off the wheel and will eventually disable if the prompts are ignored for a few seconds.

Japan's Transport Ministry said last week dealers selling cars with driver-assist functions should remind consumers of their limits, noted Tesla's Autopilot system isn't fully autonomous and said drivers should be responsible in the event of accidents.

The US's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is expected to announce guidelines as soon as this month that will set some parameters for self-driving cars.

"Single-lane 'autopilot' style automated driving should be a noteworthy feature in mass market segments at this point in time where these technologies are still quite nascent in any segment," said Jeremy Carlson, a Los Angeles-based analyst for IHS Automotive.

"Nissan has also been clearer than most in how they intend to bring that technology to market and describe precisely what it will do, and that is something that many mass market competitors have not always communicated very clearly."

Regulators are scrutinising Tesla's similar Autopilot technology after an Ohio man died when he and his Model S sedan failed to react to an 18-wheeler crossing a Florida road in May.

Pennsylvania State Police have since cited the driver of a Tesla Model X involved in a July 1 crash that may have involved Autopilot technology for careless driving, according to a report released Monday. Another Tesla driver has told Montana police that Autopilot was engaged during an accident that occurred on Saturday.

The carmaker confirmed Autopilot was engaged when the car drove off the side of the road, though the driver didn't put his hands on the wheel in spite of the vehicle alerting him to do so, Tesla said Tuesday.

"The challenge for automakers is to clearly articulate those limitations and manage the expectations of their customers," said IHS Automotive's Mr Carlson. "That is only going to become more difficult when rapidly evolving technology means a Nissan may behave differently than a Tesla or Toyota in the same situation."

Nissan's release of ProPilot follows more premium brands including Tesla, Daimler AG and Volvo Car AB, whose technologies allow their vehicles to handle more complicated traffic conditions. Nissan plans to extend the availability of ProPilot to Europe with the Qashqai sport utility vehicle, as well as to the US and China.

Toyota Motor Corp, Honda Motor Co and Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd all plan to introduce vehicles capable of driving themselves on highways by 2020. The Renault-Nissan Alliance has said it plans to launch more than 10 vehicles with autonomous-drive technology in the next four years.

Nissan plans to add autonomous-driving functions step-by-step, enabling cars to change lanes on their own in 2018 and traverse urban roads, including intersections, by 2020.  The ProPilot system available on the Serena uses a monocular camera supplied by ZF TRW Automotive Holdings Corp to detect obstacles and relies on a system jointly developed with Mobileye NV to process images, said Kiwamu Aoyanagi, a Nissan engineer. Pricing details will be announced later, he said.

Nissan will make sure dealers will inform drivers of its technology's limits and ensure they understand it's not a self-driving car, spokesman Nicholas Maxfield said.

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