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Nissan's Carlos Ghosn talks self-driving cars and says tech isn't the problem

Few chief executives have as much to say and are as listened-to in the industry as is the Nissan-Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn. When he talks, the industry listens, and lately, he's talking about self-driving cars. The problem, of course, isn't lack of technology.

The Nissan Autonomous Drive car has been showcased around the world now. It's a retrofitted Nissan LEAF electric car with concept components that are as real-world as it gets when it comes to functionality. The car drives itself and is being tested on public roadways as we speak.

Speaking before the press this week, Carlos Ghosn, head of the world's fourth-largest automaker in the Renault-Nissan Alliance, says that the company's Autonomous Drive (self-driving cars) could be on the market in 2018. That's a full two years earlier than previously predicted. If they get delayed, he said, it will not be because the technology isn't there. It will be because government red tape is holding it back.

Ghosn is an outspoken CEO and one of the most-recognized in the world. He's credited with being the Lee Iaccoca of the 21st century, turning around Nissan Motor while simultaneously leading Renault to some of its greatest heights. When he talks, the industry pays attention. He's not known for making flamboyant or far-out statements to get attention either. When he says "as early as 2018" he means "likely in 2018."

In a Reuters interview shortly after the press conference, Ghosn called out world leaders on the red tape that could keep self-driving cars from happening.

"The problem isn't technology," Ghosn said, "it's legislation." He cited that legally, not having answers as to who's responsible should an accident occur and who's responsible if there's no one in the car at all are two things that will definitely keep autonomous cars from becoming a reality.

He pointed to three key markets as being likely first-adopters, both because of their legal frameworks and because of their role as first buyers. Those were the United States, France, and Japan. He says that most major markets would see Autonomous Drive eventually, bot those three would likely be first.

Ghosn was excited to update the timetable for self-driving cars because of a recent United Nations agreement that would accommodate early autonomous cars. The Road Traffic convention included a provision that allows drivers to take their hands off the steering wheel of a self-driving car so long as the car has a way to override the self-driving system if needed. In this way, Autonomous Drive would become like cruise control for steering.

The provision was lobbied for by key EU members, France, Germany and Italy, as all three have automakers that are very likely to be the first to introduce self-driving vehicle technologies. Renault, based in France, is working together with its alliance partner Nissan on the technology as is Audi, based in Germany. The University of Parma in Italy, of course, famously developed the self-driving vans which drove from Italy to China last year. It's also noted that outside of four states in the U.S., only Belgium, France and Italy have laws permitting self-driving vehicles in some fashion or another.

Given the advanced state of the self-parking systems and driverless car systems of Renault and Nissan respectively, it would be no surprise should Ghosn become the first CEO to announce a production self-driving car.