Japan Steals a March on AV Market if Level 4 becomes Legal

Legalizing Level 4 autonomous driving could place Japan in pole position to lead the world in advancing the rollout of the technology.

The nation’s National Police Agency has announced that it aims to create a legal framework for Level 4 self-driving cars operating within limited areas. This move follows Germany’s push to lead the way in Europe allowing Level 3 automated driving by changing federal legislation in summer, a move that echoed Japan’s own change of law to allow Level 3 driving for the Honda Legend sedan in April 2021.

These changes in law allow the disconnection of the human driver from mission critical operations during certain portions of a journey when the automated functions are activated. The latest move, If approved by the legislators in Japan, should lead to the commercialization of Level 4 self-driving cars in shared mobility, where vehicles can operate without human interaction.

Now Bakar Sadik Agwan, senior automotive consulting analyst at GlobalData, believes this will give the country, and its automotive industry, a clear advantage over others in the race to advance autonomous technologies. He said: “The development is in line with the government’s vision to put Level 4 automated driving system to practical use across more than 40 locations by 2025.

GlobalData expects Level 4 autonomous vehicle market penetration to surpass Level 3 and reach over 1% by 2030, unlike Level 3, which is expected to remain at a penetration of less than 0.5% by the same period. This is because Level 3 sits at an awkward point where the system’s complexity is so high that the cost makes it less tempting for deployment across mass-market vehicles. In addition, it lacks the utility of Level 4 and above systems that are more applicable to robo-taxi fleets.

“Autonomous vehicles are gaining regulatory approvals across the world’s key urban areas for commercial use. Shared mobility is the most significant driver for AVs and is the epicenter of the megatrend. Waymo already has regulatory approvals. It introduced a ride hailing fleet with its Level 4 vehicles and offers 20,000 to 40,000 rides a quarter in the US. In China, after AutoX which received approval in January 2021, Baidu and Pony.ai have also won approval to run commercial driverless ride hailing services in Beijing with fleet of not more than 100 Level 4 AVs. Germany is also set to legalize the commercial use of Level 4 AVs as taxis by 2022. Timely approval for Level 4 autonomy will help Japan to be in the race with market leaders such as the US, China and Europe.”

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in Europe. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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