Leading Chinese automaker BYD claims completely autonomous driving (AD) is ‘basically impossible’, and that the automation technology would better serve streamlining manufacturing processes.

Translated from Mandarin by CNBC, BYD spokesperson Li Yunfei said “We think self-driving tech that’s fully separated from humans is very, very far away, and basically impossible.”

2023 BYD Atto 3 models are currently equipped with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) including autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane-keep assist, and adaptive cruise control with stop/go, but there don’t appear to be plans to incorporate autonomous driving in the BYD range.

“There may be many industries and businesses that invest a lot of money on this [tech], and after investing for many years it will prove it leads nowhere,” Mr Li told reporters at the Shanghai auto show.

“When we think about [self-driving tech] from all aspects, from human psychological safety needs, from ethics, from regulation, from technology — including application in this industry — we haven’t figured out [the logic] and we think it is probably a false proposition,” he added.

Almost every major automaker has a focus on developing intelligent technology to support autonomous driving, but BYD is not alone in expressing its doubts on the plausibility of fully autonomous – i.e. Level 5 – technology.

Despite Mercedes-Benz having one of the most advanced ADAS systems on the market, with Level 2 autonomous driving systems across its range and the S-Class being offered with Level 3 autonomous technology in Germany, CEO Ola Kallenius said “I think we will surely be deep into the [20]30s before the whole world goes to that (self-driving tech).”

Volvo global chief Jim Rowan made it clear that Volvo will focus on enhancing ADAS in its vehicles as he believes, “regulation will be the barrier towards full adoption of full autonomous driving more than technology will.”

Even Apple’s long-awaited car, originally said to be free from pedals or a steering wheel, will reportedly go without self-driving technology.

Volkswagen brand CEO Thomas Schäfer, however, believes the brand is on track to make autonomous driving mainstream by the end of the decade.

Mr Schäfer did agree that there will be legal roadblocks, saying: “There’s always the need to prove that the system drives better than a human. The legislation for it is enormous. It’s totally different from country to country.”

For example, Mercedes-Benz is liable for any accidents caused when its Level 3 Drive Pilot system is engaged, regardless of whether the driver is paying attention or not.

Tesla, arguably the loudest advocate for AD technology, has been fighting what seems like constant legal battles surrounding its autonomous driving technology.

Elon Musk says Tesla vehicles will soon achieve full self-driving autonomy and will “be able to show to regulators that the car is safer, much more so, than the average human”.

Tesla is yet to receive regulatory approval for its systems, but as Musk says, “we’ve got to prove it to regulators and get the regulatory approvals, which is outside of our control.”

The California Department of Motor Vehicles has been vocal about what it says are misleading statements that have been made by Tesla about its current Autopilot and Full Self-Driving Level 2 systems.

Additionally, Tesla is reportedly the subject of a criminal investigation from the U.S. Department of Justice investigating more than a dozen crashes where Tesla’s Autopilot system was active.

Not hindered by its lack of AD technology, BYD is the leading domestic car manufacturer in China, accounting for 40 per cent of the “new energy vehicles” — plug-in hybrids and pure EVs — in China.

For the first time in 40 years, a domestic brand has topped local sales, with BYD outselling Volkswagen in the first quarter of 2023.

The company has been steadily growing its presence in Europe and Asia, and began selling cars in Australia last year.

Eilidh McNaughton
Eilidh McNaughton is a Contributor at CarExpert.
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