Nissan began to offer Level 2 driving capacities in a mainstream model when it debuted its ProPilot self-drive option for its Serena minivan in Japan last year.
Nissan spokespersons have now confirmed the Japanese carmaker will offer ProPilot in its Qashqai and X-Trail flagship SUV in Europe by end of next year, as Nissan tries to secure its place as a leading driverless OEM in the mainstream sector by offering advanced self-drive features outside of Japan for the first time.
Earlier this week, Nissan also said it has begun to offer Propilot in its Nissan X-Trail in Japan.
Nissan said it will offer ProPilot in the US, China, and in other markets in addition to Europe and Japan by 2020.
Nissan spokespersons also reiterated comments made by Carlos Ghosn, who was then CEO of Nissan, at CES in Las Vegas in January that Nissan will offer ProPilot in the all-electric Leaf "very soon," but was not more specific.
However, the Nissan spokespersons did not elaborate on how the Qashqai's and X-Trail's ProPilot driverless features might work beyond what the Serena and X-Trail currently offer in Japan.
Nissan says ProPilot, when it becomes available in Europe next year, will control the steering, acceleration and braking in single lanes on highways during heavy traffic congestion and at high-speed cruising, but was not more specific.
Drivers will activate ProPilot in the Qashqai and X-Trail with a button on the steering wheel when the models become available next year. Once activated, the driver must be ready to assume control of the vehicle at any time as the car steers around curves and breaks and accelerates while keeping a safe distance from cars ahead.
Nissan spokespersons did not disclose when Nissan would offer ProPilot in the US.
Meanwhile, Nissan has previously disclosed ProPilot will offer self-driving for multi-lane highways (it is currently limited to single-lane highway driving conditions) in 2018 and will be available for use in certain cities in 2020.
Nissan's staggered approach for ProPilot's rollout makes sense from a product perspective, Ian Fletcher, an analyst for IHS Automotive, told Driverless.
"The Qashqai is Nissan's best-selling vehicle in Europe and a big seller to families there," Fletcher said. "It can be marketed on the basis of its safety credentials."
For the Leaf, Nissan is targeting early adopters by offering the feature as part of a tech-centric package. This includes all-electric driving and connectivity options in addition to self-driving features, thus hinting at the possibility that it will serve as Nissan's self-drive flagship when it becomes available, as early as this year.
Nissan's approach with the Leaf is not unlike that of BMW's strategy for its i3 all-electric sub-brand, which offers self-drive steering, accelerating, and braking along certain highway conditions, as well as self-parking features.
Nissan's Leaf is part of a so-called ACES (autonomous, connected, electric, and shared) package, Aaron Dale, an analyst for IHS Automotive, told Driverless.
The ACES technologies add additional value when used in conjunction to each other, and from a design prospective, building these system on a platform from the ground up also makes a lot of sense. We are seeing this in several sub-brands, such as the BMW i3. Quashqai is Nissan throwing its hat in the ring and familiarizing its mainstream audience, while also adding attractive top-end features that could tempt buyers away from the more luxury end of the market.
Nissan's addition of ProPilot to models in Europe, of course, is only one of many launches to follow that advance driverless' rollout in incremental steps. Already, premium car makers BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Tesla all began to offer driverless features at least on par with ProPilot before Nissan did. Among the mainstream players, Honda began to provide Level 2 driving capabilities for highway driving last year in its Honda Accord, Civic, CR-V Touring, and Pilot. But as a mainstream carmaker, Nissan is certainly among the frontrunners and the Leaf could offer some exciting driverless surprises in the very near future.