Millennium Post

As US Google’s much hyped project stutters, China’s driverless cars complete 2K-km road test

Two self-driving cars produced by a Chinese firm completed a 2,000-km journey in China’s first long-distance road test for autonomous vehicles in a bid to stay ahead of Google and others in developing driverless car technology. The vehicles, produced by Chang’an Automobile, left the southwestern metropolis of Chongqing on Tuesday and arrived at Beijing at about 5 pm yesterday, state-run Xinhua news agency reported. The cars successfully drove distance from other vehicles, changed lanes, overtook and performed other maneuvers including three-point turns automatically but still need the help of a driver in certain road sections and gas stations, the designers said. The maximum speed of the cars reached 120 km per hour. 

Tan Benhong, deputy director of the Chang’an Automobile Engineering and Research Institute, said they would improve the technologies based on the results of the test and then to prepare for mass production. Chang’an plans to put driverless cars into commercial use in 2018, Tan said. Worldwide, at least 18 companies are developing autonomous cars, including BMW, Audi and Toyota. China’s contenders include auto makers BAIC group, GAC Group, SAIC Motor, Chang’an and BYD. 

Meanwhile, having launched its electric car ‘e2o’ in the UK, Indian auto major Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M) is now keen to drive into other advanced European markets including Sweden and Norway as part of its business expansion plans for this new vehicle segment. The company is bullish on advanced countries in terms of electric vehicle markets on account of affordability and other issues. To cash in on opportunities available, e2o was launched just two months after rolling out GenZe electric scooter in California (USA).

“When you look at countries which are going to be early adopters, those are countries which are more advanced because the affordability is the key issue given battery costs are high at this stage. So by definition, electric cars will be more affordable in affluent economies,” Mahindra Group Chairman Anand Mahindra said.

“Secondly, concerns over climate change and the regulation concerning climate change is also much more stringent in the Western countries. So by that logic, the markets in the West and affluent countries will move faster towards electric vehicle than the Indian market,” he said. 

Thus, M&M is looking at northern European markets including the Netherlands for launching its electric vehicle offering. “Once we see traction here (in the UK) we certainly want to expand the market to other European countries. Some of the priority markets are the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden,” he said. M&M recently launched ‘e2o’ in the UK market priced up to 15,995 pounds (over Rs 15 lakh) designed specifically for urban commuting. “Electric vehicle is exempt from congestion surcharge and road tax that immediately provides a competitive advantage which offsets some of the cost disadvantages in India and that is why the UK was the right place to foray into Europe,” he said.

The entry-level e2o City is priced at £12,995, while the higher-spec TechX version would retail at £15,995 and has features like touchscreen infotainment centre with reversing camera, telematics, leather seats, alloy wheels and a rapid charging port. The interesting part is that the e2o involves a complete online buying bypassing dealership network. At £12,995, it is competitively priced vis-a-vis models such as the Nissan Leaf. The new vehicle is an innovative mix of advancements in automotive, electronics and IT paired with minimal running costs and zero tailpipe emissions.
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