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商业 - 汽车

日产押宝自动驾驶汽车

Alex Taylor III 2013年09月06日

日产目前在美国市场的占有率只有8%,排在第7位,落后于底特律三巨头、丰田、本田和现代/起亚。但它的目标是把这个数字提高到10%,而它押宝的对象就是量产的自动驾驶汽车。

    日产的自动驾驶汽车。图片来源:日产公司

    想让业界公认你是业内一线厂商的代价又提高了。比如本月日产公司(Nissan)在加州的纽波特海滩连续第四年迎来了它的“360”试驾活动,来自亚洲、欧洲和美洲的900多名记者云集西海岸,在五条赛道和越野路线上对125辆车进行了试驾评测。值得一提的是,这些路线是日产公司专门为了本次活动而在一个废弃军用场附近修建的。其余的时间记者们将在风景如画、能俯瞰太平洋的鹈鹕山度假村里与公司高管进行交流。内部人士称,美国记者问的问题最多,欧洲记者喝的饮料最多,而中国记者弄坏的汽车最多。

    举办这样奢华的活动,费用之高也可想而知。如果把差旅费、酒店费和场地费、用车成本、技术展示费用等各种费用都计算在内,那么这场活动的总成本可能高达900万美元,也就是平均每名客人1万美元。不过就像日产公司的一名高管解释的那样:“既然已经投了几十亿在研发上,再花一点钱展示一下硬件,也完全合情合理。”

    日产公司CEO卡洛斯•高森本来计划参加在八月底参加本次活动的一个环节,但由于公司高层闹起了内讧需要他亲自弹压,因而只能遗憾缺席。原因是雷诺公司(Renault)的首席运营官卡洛斯•塔瓦雷斯此前认为他接替高森成为雷诺—日产联盟的新老板已经是板上钉钉的事,但是现在大家都看出今年59岁的高森并没有任何退休或放权的迹象。因此55岁的塔瓦雷斯按捺不住心中的不快,公开对彭博社(Bloomberg)一位记者宣布,他将参与竞争通用汽车(General Motors)或福特(Ford )的下一任CEO职位。两周后,塔瓦雷斯就从雷诺离职了。

    在高森缺席的情况下,本次日产360活动中最吸引人眼球的并不是有“怪兽哥斯拉”之称的GT-R超跑,也不是长得像面包车一样并且即将正式加入纽约黄色出租车队伍的“明日出租车”,甚至也不是参展的37辆老爷车和概念车里的任何一辆,而是一辆装配了各种激光、雷达、传感器和摄相头的日产聆风(Leaf)电动车,它也是日产公司为了践行开发量产级自动驾驶汽车的承诺而走出的第一步。

    不过根据我从试驾中了解的情况,“半自动”或许是对它更好的描述。因为这辆车的驾驶座上必须坐着一个看路况的人,以便在紧急情况下可以保持对车辆的控制。另外在拥挤的城市环境中也需要驾驶员的操控,因为这辆车的电子眼和软件算法尚无法承受过于海量的图像。不过我从后排座位上看到,在没有司机指令的情况下,这辆聆风电动车自己打了转向灯,超过了一辆开得稍慢的车,在高速上表现得很好,而且还绕过了一名行人。

    精确的目标和最终的成果都是卡洛斯•高森非常看重的东西。他承诺在2020年前将推出量产级的半自动化轿车。不过届时比起技术上的挑战,法律和保险方面的新问题可能是更亟待解决的,此外还有老百姓的某些行为引发的问题。比如如果汽车实现了自动驾驶,是不是意味着坐在方向盘后头的那个人就算是发发短信或是开车前喝点小酒也没关系了?如果他遭遇了车祸,或者他的车制造了车祸,谁该来为他买单?    

    The price of admission to the auto industry's top tier has just gone up. Exhibit One: Nissan's quadriennial 360 event, the latest edition of which concludes this month in Newport Beach, Calif. By the time it is over, more than 900 international journalists from Asia, Europe, and the Americas will be transported to the West Coast to drive some 125 new models and test vehicles on five tracks and off-road courses specially constructed for the occasion at a nearby abandoned Marine airfield. When not behind the wheel, Nissan's guests are socializing with company executives at the lush Pelican Hill resort overlooking the Pacific. Insiders report that American journalists ask the most questions, Europeans consume the most beverages, and the Chinese damage the most cars.

    The bill for this kind of extravaganza is steep. When everything from travel to hotels to the actual costs of staging the event (buildings, cars, technology displays, and so on) is included, the total cost of the event will run about $10,000 per guest -- some $9 million in all. But as one executive explained, "When you spend billions on R&D, investing a few dollars more to show off the hardware makes good sense."

    Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn was scheduled to attend a 360 session at the end of August but became a no-show when he had to tamp down an uprising in his executive ranks. One of his protégés, Carlos Tavares, the chief operating officer of Nissan's partner Renault, had seen himself succeeding Ghosn as head of the Nissan-Renault alliance But when it became apparent that Ghosn, 59, wasn't going anywhere, Tavares, 55, made his impatience publicly known by announcing to a Bloomberg reporter that he was making himself a candidate for the CEO job at General Motors (GM, Fortune 500) or Ford (F, Fortune 500) instead. Two weeks later, Tavares was out of his job at Renault

    With Ghosn absent, the biggest attraction at Nissan 360 was not the GT-R supercar known as "Godzilla" or the van-like "taxi of tomorrow" soon to venture onto New York streets as the city's official yellow cab, or even any of the 37 historic and concept cars on display. Rather it was a homely Nissan Leaf outfitted with lasers, radar, sensors, and cameras that is Nissan's down payment on its pledge to develop the first production-capable autonomous vehicle: a car that drives itself.

    As I learned on a test ride, "semi autonomous" is a more accurate description since the driver's seat must still be occupied by someone who has his eyes on the road and can take control in an emergency. A driver is also required in congested urban situations where the jumble of images would overwhelm the capacities of its electronic eyes and software algorithms. But as I watched from the back seat, the battery-powered Leaf overtook and passed a slower vehicle, exited a highway, and swerved around a pedestrian without any guidance from the driver beyond the activation of a turn signal.

    Ghosn loves precise targets almost as much as he loves results, and he promises to have a semi-autonomous car ready to sell by 2020. Looming larger than the technical challenges are the regulatory and insurance issues that need to be solved by then, along with the adoption of common-sense behavioral issues. Does the ability of a car to drive itself mean that the person behind the wheel can text more intently or drink more heavily? And who pays the bills if a mishap befalls him as he does? 

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