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Self-Driving Cars: Honda Sets 2020 as Target for Highly Automated Freeway Driving

Honda has a carefully considered game plan for self-driving cars, and, if one word characterizes its approach, it is “patience.” Tapping its luxury brand Acura to lead its U.S. advance to AVs, Honda plotted a deliberate course to autonomy through steady development of driver-assistance systems. To date, it hasn’t strayed from that.

It was only a year ago Acura’s Matt Sloustcher told Autotrader that that Honda’s vision wasn’t to have a 100 percent self-driving car in the next four or five years, but to significantly help the driver through technology by 2020. “Corporate Honda sees autonomous vehicles as feasible,” he explained, “but it doesn’t see an end date for one at this point.”

Much has happened in the past 12 months, and Honda now seems willing to attach firm dates to at least some of its plans. In a recent announcement, it provided specifics for 2020 and 2025.

Levels of Autonomy

In the fall of 2016, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) for the first time issued guidelines for developing self-driving cars, also known as autonomous vehicles (AVs). Within those guidelines was an official definition of the levels of autonomy as devised by SAE International, an automotive and aerospace standards-setting body. Levels 3 through 5 represent serious autonomy:

  • SAE Level 3: An automated system can both actually conduct some parts of the driving task and monitor the driving environment in some instances, but the human driver must be ready to take back control when the automated system requests.
  • SAE Level 4: An automated system can conduct the driving task and monitor the driving environment, and the human need not take back control, but the automated system can operate only in certain environments and under certain conditions.
  • SAE Level 5: The automated system can perform all driving tasks, under all conditions that a human driver could perform them.

Honda has yet to establish an end date for a Level 5 vehicle, but it has set dates for Levels 3 and 4.


Although some developers of self-driving cars are predicting Level 4 or even Level 5 vehicles by 2020, Honda’s more conservative approach promises a Level 3 vehicle by 2020. Here, though, Honda is confining its 2020 projection to highly automated freeway driving.

Granted, we might expect freeway-capable Level 3 Honda/Acura models to be able to perform on their own in other specific areas, but at this date Honda is restricting its announcement to freeway driving.


Honda’s recent announcement isn’t the first time it alluded to 2020 as a key date in the development of highly automated vehicles, but it is the first time it has declared it will have a Level 4 vehicle by 2025.

“We will strive to achieve the technological establishment of Level 4 automated driving for personal car use by around 2025,” said Takahiro Hachigo, president and CEO of Honda Motor Co., Ltd. “We are striving to provide our customers with a sense of confidence and trust by offering automated driving that will keep vehicles away from any dangerous situation and that will not make people around the vehicle feel unsafe.”

What it means to you: Despite the industry’s rapid march toward self-driving cars, as illustrated by Honda’s recent announcement, there is still a lot of hard work to be done before our streets and highways are brimming with AVs. We may not see personal-use Level 5 AVs on our roads before 2030.


Russ Heaps
Russ Heaps is an author specializing in automotive, financial and travel news. For nearly 35 years he has covered the automotive industry for newspapers, magazines and internet websites. His resume includes The Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald, The Washington Times and numerous other daily newspapers through syndication. He edited Auto World magazine, and helped create and edit NOPI Street... Read More about Russ Heaps

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  1. All vehicles whether they are fully automated or not should always have a steering wheel and a manual overide for emergencies. 

  2. What I don’t understand about the whole automated-driving revolution is why companies are so concerned about navigating tight, urban streets. Why not focus on the highways and interstates since that’s where most congestion occurs, especially during rush hour, and has less variables to worry about like stop signs and pedestrians. Then from all that data and information, start tackling harder problems like urban centers.

    • Basically the entire industry sees AVs as just one element in future mobility that also includes ride sharing and electric power. More than likely early Level 4 vehicles will operate mostly on highways and probably be trucks and buses. In the meantime, urban dwellers are and continue to be the early adopters for ride sharing and electric. Information gathering remains the AV developers biggest hurdle. Millions of miles must be logged and the resulting data analyzed before a Level 4 or Level 5 AV can be set loose on city streets. AVs currently testing on city streets are basically of the Level 3 variety with a human at the wheel to assume control if needed. No doubt highways will be the first wide exposure to Level 4 AVs, but the sheer volume of urban data needed requires gathering it now.

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