France's Groupe PSA (formerly known as PSA Peugeot Citroën) — one of the world's top-10 carmakers — aggressively seeks to take a lead in the rollout of the industry 's first driverless cars, as it becomes the first mainstream carmaker to announce it will launch a Level 3 self-drive vehicle launch by 2020.
In the premium space, Audi is rolling out the A8 equipped with sensors, a mapping system, and an onboard machine-taught computer for Level 3 driving in July, but the model will require a software update to activate it. BMW plans to offer Level 3 capabilities when it introduces the iNext, but it is not slated for launch until 2021.
PSA will introduce Level 2 capabilities in its DS 7 Crossback SUV next year for sale in Europe and China, confirming PSA's earlier plans to debut its most advanced technologies in its DS brand. The group will equip its Citroën C5 Crossback SUV with Level 2 capabilities following the DS 7 Crossback SUV launch. PSA will call the driverless features Traffic Jam Chauffeur and Highway Chauffeur, while the company did not disclose specifics about how the capabilities will work.
PSA engineers have been testing Citroën C4 Picasso and Peugeot 3008 prototypes with Level 3 capabilities on French roads and highways for over a year. This writer was escorted in a driverless C4 Picasso last year in the suburbs of Paris. By then, the prototype car drove itself along the busy highway with no eye contact by the driver as the car maneuvered itself behind and around other cars on the highway.
After leaving the US market in the early 1990s, PSA announced plans to return to North America earlier this year. It hasn't yet set a date by when it will offer its models there, but invested 15 million euros with French insurance company MAIF earlier this year in ride-sharing firm TravelCar, which plans to offer ride-sharing services in San Francisco and Los Angeles. DS and Peugeot executives have told this writer they could begin to offer driverless models as part of fleet services, but said they have yet to finalize plans for the US distribution model.
DS and Peugeot executives have previously described to this writer plans to possibly market a French ride-share experience to customers in cities worldwide, including in the US, by drawing on Parisian-style cues to attract potential fleet customers.
If PSA does offer this service, driverless DS-, Citroën-, or Peugeot-brand cars may eventually be available in ride-sharing fleets in major cities in the states. In the meantime, expect to be able to buy or rent a Level 3 DS, Peugeot, or Citroën in retail channels by 2020 in Europe or China first.