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Nissan may introduce self-driving car by 2018

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Yuya Shino/Reuters/File

(Read caption) Nissan Motor Co's President and Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn gestures as he speaks at a news conference at its headquarters in Yokohama, Japan. Nissan may release its self-driving car in 2018, two years earlier than expected, Ghosn says.

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Nissan is committed to introducing a fully autonomous car by 2020, but the automaker’s CEO Carlos Ghosn says the technology could be ready two years before that date. Speaking with Reuters, Mr. Ghosn, the head of the world’s fourth largest automaker, Renault Nissan, said self-driving cars could be on the roads by 2018, provided red tape doesn’t hold them back.

"The problem isn't technology, it's legislation, and the whole question of responsibility that goes with these cars moving around ... and especially who is responsible once there is no longer anyone inside," he says. 

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Ghosn listed the US together with France and Japan as “pioneer countries” where self-driving cars could first appear. However, he’s confident that most major markets could see self-driving cars on the roads shortly after.

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The ramped-up schedule stems from an agreement worked out by the United Nations in April. Among other things mentioned in the new UN Convention on Road Traffic, there's a provision to allow drivers to take their hands off the steering wheels of autonomous vehicles, provided there's a way for drivers to switch off the self-driving systems if necessary.

France, Germany, and Italy lobbied for the updated provision—mostly because the automakers based in those countries feel confident that they can beat their American and Asian rivals to the punch by offering autonomous cars first.

Earlier this year Renault showed a prototype vehicle that can drive itself in slow-moving traffic and parking situations. Nissan, meanwhile, is testing Leaf-based prototypes that are fully autonomous.