Launching Volvo's Vision 2020 project, head of R&D Peter Mertens had a few choice words for self-driving automobiles. Actually he had one choice word on the idea that there will be self-driving cars on roads within two years: "Bullshit".
In response to a picture of a woman reading a newspaper while her car drove her to her destination, he said: "If you look at the picture of having a person sitting behind a steering wheel, and doing emails and reading whatever, that kind of stuff is not what we want to see in a car.
"This is a very, very long term vision. And others are talking that they will have fully autonomous driving in every road condition and under any weather condition in any kind traffic condition in a couple of years. I think that's bulls**t. We think that that is something which is just not telling the truth."
As Peter tells it, the benefits of auto-driving are more to do with enhanced safety. "We are very, very serious about autonomous driving," he continued, "not for having people making their emails, but for making us get to our vision of 2020."
Specifically, Volvo plans to abolish road deaths (or at least those involving new Volvos) by the decade's end. "Our vision of 2020: we don't want to have anybody seriously hurt or injured or even killed in a new Volvo," according to Mertens.
It's a "target" rather than a guarantee, of course, but Volvo is serious about reaching it, using a combination of "passive" safety: manufacturing as much strength as possible into the car's construction, so in the event of a collision, the chassis protects you.
The auto-driving tech comes in with the more "active" safety measures, primarily sensor-controlled brake assist and object avoidance systems.
The car the Swedish giant was using to showcase its new gamut of safety widgets was the hybrid XC90, a handsome-looking ride primed to take on Audi's Q7 and Beemer's X5 – at a significantly lower price, to boot. For Mertens, though, it's "the most important next stepping stone and milestone on our way towards 2020."