• Kyodo


Honda Motor Co. said Thursday it will start offering from Friday the revamped Legend sedan in Japan equipped with “level-3” autonomous technology as the auto industry faces intensifying competition to develop driverless vehicles and a collision-free society.

It is the world’s first vehicle to hit the market that allows the driver to engage in different tasks such as reading and watching TV when the car is in certain conditions such as congested traffic on expressways, the Japanese transport ministry said.

But in the case of an emergency the driver needs to take full control of the vehicle.

“Autonomous technology has the potential to reduce the driver’s burden while eliminating human errors that cause traffic accidents,” Yoichi Sugimoto, executive chief engineer of Honda R&D Co., said in an online press conference.

Honda plans to offer 100 units domestically for a suggested retail price of ¥11 million ($103,000) that will only be available on a three-year lease. This includes a maintenance service package, as the vehicle needs special technicians certified by the government to deal with its self-driving technology.

Japan has been keen to push for the development of self-driving cars, with a revised law taking effect in April last year that allows level-3 autonomous vehicles to run on public roads.

However, there are no plans to sell the level-3 self-driving vehicle overseas, a Honda spokeswoman said.

To develop what it calls “Honda Sensing Elite” level-3 autonomous driving technology, the automaker conducted a total of about 10 million-pattern simulations of possible real-world situations and tested the vehicle on expressways, racking up a total of 1.3 million kilometers, it said.

Honda Legend’s Traffic Jam Pilot, one of the key functions of its level-3 self-driving technology, is programmed to take control of acceleration, braking and steering when the vehicle is in congested traffic and traveling at a speed of 30 kilometers per hour or slower, allowing the driver to do other activities.

When the speed exceeds 50 kph, the system urges the driver to take full control of the car, Honda said.

Among Japanese automakers, Nissan Motor Co. and Subaru Corp. have developed level-2 assistant technologies that allow drivers to take their hands off the steering wheel in a designated single lane, but they are required to take full control of their car at all other times.

To boost the development of cutting-edge technologies including those for self-driving vehicles, Toyota Motor Corp. began last month to build a smart city named “Woven City” at a 70.8-hectare former Toyota factory site at the foot of Mt. Fuji in central Japan.

Autonomous driving technologies are classified into five levels. At level-4 self-driving, a vehicle conducts all driving tasks without human intervention within a limited area, even in an emergency. At level-5, vehicles do not need human attention or interaction.

In Japan, the death toll due to traffic accidents stood at 2,839 in 2020, a record low since 1948 when comparable data became available after marking its peak of 16,765 in 1970, thanks partly to vehicles being equipped with advanced safety technologies.

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