Nissan Motor Co.'s startling announcement last week that it will have self-driving cars ready for dealerships in 2020 thrusts the company into the forefront of an emerging and controversial new technology.
And that's deja vu all over again.
"We've been here before," agrees Andy Palmer, Nissan's executive vice president, who is responsible for future products globally. "We've moved ahead in new technology like this before."
It was 2007 when Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn stunned the industry by declaring he would get zero-emission battery-powered electric cars on the market by 2010. That put Nissan on a gutsy path when some automakers were still debating the viability of hybrids.
And not just "an" electric car, Ghosn assured audiences at the time, but a line of dependable, practical, moderately priced electric cars of different styles and segments, in meaningful volumes, to sell in markets around the world.
Now Nissan is breaking out of the pack again to pursue a new technological lead in autonomous vehicles. The ambitious language is strikingly similar to its campaign for EVs.
"We're confident we can bring this technology to market," Palmer said last week on his way to dinner with journalists during a product review in Southern California. "You can see from our autonomous vehicle demonstration here that we are already well on our way to meeting the target. There are no tripods on the roof of the cars. It's a real car.
"What we are saying is that within the span of only two model cycles, this technology will be proven and will be spread across our portfolio."
It may be the auto industry equivalent of a moonshot.
The term "autonomous vehicle," simply put, refers to a car or truck that would be capable of driving itself safely to a specified destination while its owners and passengers sit back and read their e-mails or enjoy the view.
"We're talking hands-off, feet-off driving," the British executive clarifies.