Sept. 11 - Driverless cars take center stage at the Frankfurt car show with Nissan one of several firms planning to have models ready by 2020. Julian Satterthwaite reports from the show.
The idea of the driverless car has been around for a long time, but it's moving nearer to reality. Mercedes tested one of its prototypes on the open road ahead of the Frankfurt Motor Show. It covered 100 kilometres without a glitch. Nissan is keen too. It says it will have self-driving cars on sale, at affordable prices, by 2020. Company CEO Carlos Ghosn says all the necessary technologies are falling into place: (SOUNDBITE) (English): RENAULT NISSAN CEO CARLOS GHOSN, SAYING: "The autonomous car is based on technical modules. These modules are being prepared. In fact some of these modules you're going to see in the Infiniti cars, or the Nissan cars or the Renault cars coming before 2020. But assembling all these modules to make the autonomous car ? I think 2020 is a very reasonable date, and by the way I don't think we'll be the only one coming in 2020." Jump in, tell you car where you want to go - and sit back. It sounds like science fiction, but many of the key elements of driverless cars are indeed here already. Satellite navigation is now routine. Some current models can park themselves, or detect other cars and pedestrians. The challenge is to put it all together in a way that's reliable, safe, and affordable. An autonomous car isn't just for lazy drivers. Productivity could leap if drivers were free to do other things. Congestion could be reduced by vehicles that always take the best route from A to B. That would save fuel, too. Since most car crashes are caused by human error, a reliable driverless car could also save lives says Ernst & Young's Mike Hanley: (SOUNDBITE) (English): ERNST & YOUNG AUTO ANALYST MIKE HANLEY, SAYING: " There are some real benefits overall for society, in the area of safety - an area that automotive companies continually struggle with - to make the cars as safe as possible, so I think at the end of the day there is a real opportunity for this to be a key element of society." Also in the driverless car's favour is the number and variety of big players that want it to happen, including tech firms. Google and IBM are reportedly in talks with Mercedes over a partnership. The driverless car may still be some years away from production, but it does seems to be a question of when, not if.