Automakers worried reckless Musk could set back autonomous drive

Akio Toyoda

Akio Toyoda

Apart from dieselgate, the big topic at this year’s Tokyo Motor Show is autonomous driving. Both Toyota and Nissan are showing off impressive autonomous technology. They are doing it quietly, without the chest pounding of a Elon Musk. Talk to automakers in Tokyo, and you will sense how worried they ware about motormouth Musk’s Autopilot rhetoric. They are not worried about Tesla’s tech. They are worried about a massive public and political blowback if and when an accident happens with an automated vehicle.

“If there is a major accident involving automated driving, technological advancement will stop suddenly,” Toyota’s President Akio Toyoda told a small group of reporters behind the stage of his company’s booth at the Tokyo Motor Show.

Toyoda spoke openly about something his colleagues at major automakers quietly worry about. Elon Musk has received a lot of public attention for a rather half-baked Autopilot, and the worry is that the pendulum will swing hard in the opposite direction if something should happen.

During the show, Toyota takes journalists on a hands-fee ride along Tokyo’s freeways. Nissan even lets journalists experience the holy grail of autonomous driving – hands-free inner city traffic. Despite the fact that the tech of both looks much more polished and way more capable than Tesla’s Autopilot, the companies are far from a commercial release. Both plan for four more years of testing and refinement, before they will make real autonomous drive available to paying customers, even if this means that other, less cautious competitors steal their thunder.

“When we at Toyota say something publicly, it must be real,” Akio Toyoda told a group of grinning reporters, who do not need to be told who Toyoda thinks is not for real.