By Vince Bond Jr., Crain News Service
DETROIT (April 18, 2013) — The biggest barrier to autonomous vehicles could end up being consumer acceptance, one expert said during a panel discussion on driver distraction that marked the first day of the SAE World Congress in Detroit on April 16.
Jay Joseph, senior manager for American Honda Motor Co.'s product regulatory office, said U.S. consumers will have to become confident for autonomous vehicles to become widespread.
"Assuming the vehicle is made and is capable, I think [the biggest possible barrier] is acceptance," Mr. Joseph said during the "Driver Distraction Regulation and Autonomous Driving" panel. "It boils down to people trusting it, and not just the person that you want to buy and be an occupant in that vehicle but everybody else on the road has to trust that it will operate as [auto makers say] it does before they'll accept sharing the road with it."
Mr. Joseph was joined by representatives from Nissan, Denso Corp., Qualcomm Inc., the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute and Continental Automotive Systems.
The panel considered a variety of crash-avoidance technologies.
The industry has moved from the 1970s focus on passive crash safety to pre-crash avoidance in 2013, said Robert Yakushi, Nissan North America's product safety and environmental director.
Meeting consumer expectations of autonomous vehicles will be key, Mr. Yakushi said.
"All other things being equal—we've solved the governmental regulatory issues, the legal issues, the technology issues—I think it will be consumer expectation," Mr. Yakushi said. "What are the consumers expecting?"
The SAE exhibit floor features this year nearly 200 companies showing off the industry's latest technologies, with 39 of them here for the first time, said Patti Kreh, SAE International's business unit leader for engineering events, development and management.
The 2014 Honda Accord plug-in hybrid is a popular draw at the auto maker's World Congress exhibit.
Jennifer Dahlgren, senior coordinator of corporate and technical communications at Honda R&D Americas, said consumers in Los Angeles and New York are having a hard time finding one. The plug-in is expected to go on sale nationwide later this year.
"We're getting a lot of people asking when it's going to go on sale and talking with our engineers that are here from Japan about the technologies they've developed, from regenerative braking to our new sport hybrid models of engines that we have," Ms. Dahlgren said.
The 2014 Jeep Cherokee and its powertrain technology also are on display.
The new Cherokee will have three driveline systems from which to choose, with each one having the ability to read driving conditions and determine whether four-wheel-drive is necessary, said Joseph Kubina, Chrysler's chief driveline engineer.
If the system detects that roads are clear, the SUV will automatically go into front-wheel drive mode to help boost fuel economy.
Mr. Kubina said it's a new feature for the industry. "We have a tremendously strong four-wheel-drive following in the Jeep brand, and we had to protect the Jeep heritage by offering four-wheel-drive systems that are very capable.
"If we detect environmental conditions, or we detect that the customer stomps on the gas [and] there could be potential for wheel slip, we engage the four-wheel-drive system."
Reporter Andrew Thurlow contributed to this report, which appeared in Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.