TOKYO – Honda said on Wednesday it will be the world’s first automaker to mass-produce sensor-packed Level 3 autonomous cars that allow drivers to navigate their vehicles through congested highway traffic.
“Honda plans to launch the sale of a Honda Legend (luxury sedan) equipped with the recently approved automated driving equipment by the end of March 2021,” Honda said in a press release. The Honda Legend is mechanically similar to the Acura RLX sold in the United States.
The race to build self-driving cars is a major technology battleground for automakers, with tech companies like Google parent Alphabet also investing billions of dollars in a field that is expected to boost car sales.
The Japanese government earlier in the day granted a safety certificate to Honda’s autonomous “Traffic Jam Pilot” driving technology, which legally allows drivers to keep their eyes off the road. In Level 3, the car can drive itself under certain conditions, but the human driver must be ready to take control at any time.
Level 2 cars currently driving on public roads can control their own speed and steering, but must have an alert driver who can take control at all times.
There are six SAE-designated levels of vehicle autonomy, from 0 to 5, ranging from manual transmission cars or cars with simple functions such as cruise control to fully self-driving vehicles that do not require steering wheels or brake and accelerator pedals.
“Self-driving cars are expected to play a major role in reducing road accidents, transporting the elderly and improving logistics,” said Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.
In July, US electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla said it was “very close” to reaching level 5 autonomous driving. It has released a beta test form of its “Full Self Driving” feature for real world use, which has been criticized, most recently from Ford.