The big­gest mar­ket presents the great­est chal­lenges

China Daily (Canada) - - ANALYSIS -

Au­to­mo­tive tech­nol­ogy ex­pert Zhang Junyi be­lieves it could be 100 years be­fore driver­less cars fi­nally take over the roads.

The head of the Greater China au­to­mo­tive team at man­age­ment con­sul­tants Roland Berger in­sists the tech­nol­ogy can work prop­erly only when ro­bots be­come more reli­able than hu­mans.

“That is the trig­ger point we have to reach. I think it will be at least 50 years, but it could also be 100 years be­fore that oc­curs. It will hap­pen, how­ever. It will def­i­nitely hap­pen.”

The 38-year-old is re­garded as one of China’s top au­thor­i­ties on the new tech­nol­ogy.

His views have been much in de­mand af­ter ex­cite­ment about au­ton­o­mous cars at the Bei­jing Auto Show in the spring and the Con­sumer Elec­tron­ics Show in Shanghai in May.

China is set to be the world’s largest mar­ket for driver­less cars, with Bos­ton Con­sult­ing Group fore­cast­ing that it could make up one-fourth of the global mar­ket of 12 mil­lion by 2035.

A Roland Berger sur­vey found that 96 per­cent of Chi­nese would be pre­pared to use an au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle, com­pared with 58 per­cent in the United States.

“The Chi­nese are will­ing to ride in a driver­less car, although that does not nec­es­sar­ily mean buy one,” Zhang said.

“Although China could be the big­gest mar­ket for this tech­nol­ogy, it ac­tu­ally presents the most chal­lenges for it.

“Driv­ing in China can be some­what chaotic. It is not pure driv­ing. You have so many ob­sta­cles on the road, from an­i­mals, bi­cy­cles and carts.”

Zhang said there is a great amount of con­fu­sion about what con­sti­tutes a driver­less car, with peo­ple not re­al­iz­ing it is an evo­lu­tion­ary process.

“All the big car man­u­fac­tur­ers will have launched a level three au­ton­o­mous car by 2020. This will be the sort of car that can stop au­to­mat­i­cally, fol­low the road lanes, etc. The tech­nol­ogy it­self will ma­ture around 2030, when we will achieve level five, but the main prob­lem is not the tech­nol­ogy but the over­all en­vi­ron­ment where the cars can be used.”

Zhang said the big­gest chal­lenge is the le­gal frame­work in which they op­er­ate. At present it is the driver of a car who is usu­ally re­spon­si­ble in the event of an accident. If a car had no steer­ing wheel, that re­spon­si­bil­ity could fall on the ve­hi­cle man­u­fac­turer.

“This is the most dif­fi­cult test ac­tu­ally. If you have a steer­ing wheel the re­spon­si­bil­ity is down to the driver. If you do not have any in­ter­ac­tion with the sys­tem or any screen, it all boils down to the car­maker. It is a very dif­fi­cult and, in fact, weird area.”

Zhang said with in­ter­net giants Google and Baidu en­ter­ing the mar­ket, one of the ma­jor ques­tions is whether driver­less cars are the prod­uct of new tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies or still very much the territory of the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try.

“This is al­ways the de­bate. Do we need very ac­cu­rate map tech­nol­ogy as pro­vided by com­pa­nies such as Google or do we just need a smart car? The an­swer is that you need both tech­nolo­gies.”

Lead­ers in the tech­nol­ogy are Mo­bil­eye, a com­pany formed in Jerusalem in 1999 that makes ad­vanced driver as­sis­tance sys­tems, Nokia, which pro­duces the Here map­ping tech­nol­ogy, and Google, whose Google Maps can­not be used in China.

Although there is a lot of ex­cite­ment about Google en­ter­ing the au­ton­o­mous-car mar­ket, Zhang is not so im­pressed.

“What Google is think­ing of is a low-speed car that will do about 40 km/h and not one for the high­way. That sort of speed would only al­low it to be used on a cam­pus or sim­i­lar places.”

With so much ac­tiv­ity go­ing on in au­ton­o­mous cars in the coun­try, some ex­pect China to be­come more of a leader in this area than with tra­di­tional ve­hi­cles, where it has been very much a fol­lower, par­tic­u­larly in cars over 1,600 cc.

“It is a catch-up process. China has just 30 to 40 years of car man­u­fac­tur­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, where the ma­jor man­u­fac­tur­ers have 100 years or more. I do not think we should see this as a com­plete game-changer for China and it sud­denly be­com­ing a leader be­cause you still need au­to­mo­tive tech­nol­ogy to suc­ceed in this area.”

Zhang be­lieves Chi­nese car man­u­fac­tur­ers will con­tinue to col­lab­o­rate with other car com­pa­nies and with tech­nol­ogy firms.

“China can­not do this alone, so the var­i­ous com­pa­nies will look to in­te­grate their tech­nolo­gies, build up re­search and devel­op­ment fa­cil­i­ties over­seas and work with oth­ers.”

He be­lieves the coun­try does have one ad­van­tage in that it is able to des­ig­nate large ar­eas of its ci­ties as test­ing ar­eas for au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles.

“This is not easy to do in many other coun­tries. We have the largest play­ground for all the play­ers to test out their cars.”

We (China) have the largest play­ground for all the play­ers to test out their cars.”

head of the Greater China au­to­mo­tive team at man­age­ment con­sul­tants Roland Berger

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