Buyers interested in a luxury self-driving car will be willing to pay a $10,000 premium, according to Volvo’s chief.
Speaking Thursday at the World Mobility Leadership Forum in Romulus, Mich., Volvo CEO Håkan Samuelsson said that the automaker expects to have both fully automated and semi-autonomous vehicles available within five years.
“Autonomous technology will make premium cars more attractive and profitable,” Samuelsson told reporters following his speech at the conference. “Once you drive it, you don’t want to be without it.”
Volvo is taking a dual-track approach in bringing these vehicles to market, he said. Both tracks will be based on the XC90 CUV’s Scalable Product Architecture, into two different styles of self-driving vehicles – one with fully automated and the other semi-autonomous systems.
One track will involve Volvo XC90s using control software developed by ride-hailing company Uber. They’ll be tested out through Uber’s self-driving car project in Pittsburgh. Volvo says these will be built as Level 5 fully autonomous vehicles.
The second track will be a Volvo XC90 developed and sold in the retail market, he said. That will be equipped with a steering wheel and pedals in a semi-autonomous system. That would meet Level 4 standards.
The retail model will utilize control software developed jointly with Swedish automotive safety-systems supplier Autoliv. It’s expected to be ready by 2021, Samuelsson said.
The company plans to roll out 100 of these retail models next year for testing in the U.K., and then in China the following year. Volvo has been active in self-driving testing through its Drive Me program.
Volvo and Uber will be splitting the reported $300 million development cost for the self-driving car project. Uber thinks these self-driving vehicles can be placed into regular service within five years.
Drivers of the retail models with Level 4 will be able to go along highways without the driver monitoring. The automaker will be positioning the technology as a step up from its current Pilot Assist system that requires the driver to keep his hands in frequent contact with the steering wheel.
Samuelson sees a clear division between the currently available, less sophisticated driver assist technology and the more sophisticated system being developed. The more advanced system will be able to fully pilot itself and then signal to the driver in a gradual process when it’s time to retake control of the car.
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Ford has been part of the Uber test project in Pittsburgh, and says that it will be rolling out autonomous vehicles around 2025. Ford says that it will be skipping a level and going to fully autonomous vehicles without steering wheels or pedals.
Samuelson believes Volvo’s long-held reputation for safety will give it a leg up in the autonomous-vehicle market.
“We think safety will be paramount (to consumers), which is one of the most valuable assets of Volvo and Autoliv,” he said.
Volvo is also looking into carsharing business as another mobility profit center. Volvo car owners would be able to loan out their vehicles when not in use. It could cut into profitability if it causes Volvo to sell fewer cars, he said, “but we should try not to resist it.”