Japan Inc. steps up autonomous-drive push
TOKYO — Japan Inc. is stepping up efforts to develop a world-leading intelligent transportation system by 2020 through the use of autonomous and connected-car technologies.
The rollout shifts into high gear next year with carmakers cleared for automated driving tests on highways and unmanned driving tests on public roads in remote low-traffic areas.
The government’s goal: Commercialize the services by 2020. That year is a key milestone because Tokyo hosts the Summer Olympics then, and the country hopes to showcase its prowess in next-generation technologies such as self-driving cars and green drivetrains.
Japan — the government and the country’s automakers — wants to popularize autonomous driving by around 2025.
Seko: Financial aid is possible.
The government’s public goal is to slash traffic fatalities dramatically, to nearly zero by 2030. Promoting the next-generation technologies also props up local jobs and helps keep the country’s carmakers competitive overseas.
The intertwined cooperation of government, industry and academia is so pervasive in Japan that there is even a Japanese abbreviation for it: sangakukan. That translates as industry-academia-government, or something akin to “indacagov.”
“If Japan’s auto industry were to lag behind in the area of new-generation cars, that would affect the very foundations of our country,” Hiroshige Seko, Japan’s powerful minister for economy, trade and industry, said in September after discussing the plans with Japan’s automakers.
“To promote this, we will consider offering assistance for next-generation cars, such as subsidies for purchasing next-generation cars and financial aid,” Seko said. “In addition, we’d like to continue providing support for r&d in collaborative fields and self-driving cars.”
Japan’s move comes as the U.S. takes the lead in penning guidelines for the use of self-driving cars. The new guidelines, issued just days after Seko’s remarks, triggered concern in Japan that the U.S. was pursuing a go-it-alone strategy with autonomous-vehicle policy in an effort to give the U.S. industry an advantage in the emerging technology.
“If the U.S. takes a leading role in establishing safety standards for automated cars, other countries might be forced to develop automated vehicles in line with the intentions of the U.S.,” Japan’s Nikkei business daily opined.
By contrast, Japan’s government wants to develop international standards for autonomous driving rules through the U.N. World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations.
“To lead the world in the field of rule-based automated driving, it is essential to have international strategies that fully cover criteria and standards,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s office wrote in a policy road map report issued this year. “Therefore, we will set up a place to share international trends in criteria and standards.”
With an eye toward the Olympics, Tokyo aims to promote several autonomous driving systems, including automated truck platooning and automated valet parking.
By 2025, Japan targets the commercialization of what the government calls fully autonomous driving, technology that enables the vehicle to operate without a driver behind the wheel.
Supporting the rollout will be a vehicle-to-infrastructure intelligent traffic network. The grid of sensors and communications stations will help cars see around blind corners, avoid traffic jams, spot hidden pedestrians and bicyclists and better relay emergency information.
“By implementing these steps in stages,” said Futoshi Kono, director of the automobile division at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, “the government aims to build a society that has the safest and smoothest road traffic system in the world by 2030.”
Naoto Okamura in Tokyo contributed to this report.