New Lexus flagship equipped with self-driving features
Toyota to extend technology to lower-end vehicles in time
TOKYO -- Toyota Motor's new Lexus LS flagship luxury, four-door sedan, unveiled in Japan on June 26, boasts a set of technologies that provide "Level 2" autonomy, although the carmaker is reluctant to call them "self-driving" features.
In announcing the new Lexus LS, Toyota described these features as "advanced driving assist technology that can lead to automated driving."
Toyota's cautiousness about promoting the Lexus LS as a self-driving car reflects the company's focus on safety in its autonomous driving research.
"We don't want our customers to mistakenly believe that the driver doesn't have to do anything or place too much reliance [on the technology]," said Kiyotaka Ise, a Toyota senior managing officer in charge of the development of advanced safety technologies.
The Lexus LS offers three main driver assistance technologies: "radar cruise control" to maintain an appropriate distance from the vehicle running ahead, "lane tracing assist," which is lane-keeping support through steering control, and "lane change assist," which supports lane changes by monitoring the surrounding road environment and controlling steering and the vehicle speed.
The combination of these three systems gives the vehicle a certain degree of self-driving capability that is roughly equivalent to what the industry calls Level 2 autonomy.
One Toyota executive said, "Other carmakers would call it autonomous driving."
Toyota's ultimate goal in developing self-driving technology is zero fatal car accidents.
Toyota's autonomous driving project would suffer if a new Lexus LS is involved in an accident because of the driver's overreliance on the technology.
In explaining the company's progress toward autonomous driving, Ise stressed that the carmaker will put the "highest priority" on safety.
The driver assistance features adopted for the Lexus LS, Toyota's top-of-the-line model, will be used also for the auto giant's lower-end vehicles in the future after the technologies are made more affordable through downsizing and cost-cutting efforts.
At the same time, the company wants to develop and start selling fully-autonomous vehicles that require no driver intervention for running on highways and similar roads by around 2020.
Until then, Toyota will continue avoiding terms such as self-driving or autonomous when marketing its vehicles.