Lexus announced its first-ever all-electric vehicle recently at the Tokyo Motor Show. Toyota (Lexus’s parent company) has made no secret about investing in AVs, but has been slower than some of its competitors. We recently blogged about Toyota’s tie-up with Subaru to collaborate on AVs. With the forthcoming Level 2 autonomous vehicle, and in light of recent notable accidents involving AVs, Lexus is continuing its deliberate thought process on launching AVs. The new vehicle will be able to operate on highways, from entrance ramps to off ramps, with traffic merging capabilities, according to Toyota Executive Vice President Shigeki Tomoyama.
Toyota’s competitors are also taking a step back from the previous AV race – Nissan recently abandoned its efforts to have a Level 5 vehicle on the road by 2020, and has stated that it will likely be the late 2020s until even a Level 3 vehicle is launched. Volkswagen has also commented on the complexities of launching a Level 5 vehicle. GM’s Cruise is also delaying commercial development of its AVs beyond its previously stated 2019 target. Even governments are slowing down their efforts. Singapore was an early adopter of AVs. With its small size, wealth, and robust infrastructure, Singapore was considered an ideal launchpad for AV testing. However, Singapore’s transport minister recently tamped down expectations of fully autonomous vehicles, stating that he did not expect them to be on Singapore’s roads “…in the near future.”
On the flip side, Tesla is going full speed ahead toward Level 5 autonomy. Elon Musk has publicly stated Tesla could push out software by the end of 2019 to enable “fully functional full self-driving” for some of its vehicles, but with the caveat that the car would need to be “supervised” by a human, which is really not Level 5 autonomy. Musk further couched his comments by stating that regulatory hurdles are preventing Tesla from eliminating the human component.
While technological hurdles remain, it’s becoming apparent that without clear and uniform government regulation and support, the timeframe for fully autonomous vehicles will continue to be delayed.