We'd like to say it was a surprise, but it really wasn't.
During the last Singapore Motor Show, Motor Image, the regional distributor of Subaru across many markets in Asia, conducted the launch of their new advanced safety suite called EyeSight.
The systems and functions under the EyeSight banner are intented to enhance overall safety; it does this by enabling Subaru models equipped with the technology to brake automatically in the event it detects a potential collision, overriding the throttle should it sense that the driver engages the wrong gear while parked, a cruise control system that manages distances to other cars up to and including coming to a full stop at city speeds.
Naturally, many who were present were impressed by the technology, particularly given that it could be considered a step forward towards autonomous driving since it has some features that can be associated with one of the most talked about topics in modern motoring.
But the executive from Subaru Corporation begged to differ during an interview with the press and clarified what EyeSight is.
“We call our EyeSight as a driving assist system. We never called it [an] autonomous driving system. That's the key point, ” said Mr. Jinya Shoji, Corporate Vice President and Chief General Manager of Subaru's Global Marketing Division.
He did, however, relent that EyeSight does have functions that fall under the definition of autonomous driving by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).
“There is an SAE autonomous driving classification,” continued Mr. Shoji. “EyeSight gives you level 2 function, but if you drive it you may feel [that] this function gives you level 3 as well.”
We pressed Mr. Shoji whether autonomous driving technology beyond EyeSight's capabilities are a priority for Subaru, especially in the context that the company he works for is one known for motorsport performance and driving thrills. Mr. Shoji gave a cautious but clear comment, but clarified that it was on a personal level.
“We like to deliver driving fun and enthusiastic feeling to customers through our Subaru products. If we make it autonomous, it's going to be boring. Very boring.”
“Actually we already have some technology inside the company, and we had a test drive,” recalled Shoji. “You have nothing to do. It communicated with the 'cloud' and got everything, the information. And you just sit there.”
Shoji further relayed his analysis that other competitor carmakers are pursuing the technology so strongly in order to apply it in the commercial and public transport sectors. The Subaru executive stated that the lack of truck drivers has become a serious problem in the United States and in Japan.
But perhaps the best takeaway from our time with Jinya Shoji is his belief in what Subaru should be about:
“I strongly disagree that [autonomous driving] will be a benefit for our customers if we deliver that product under the Subaru brand. Subaru needs to be fun. Subaru has to stay exciting. We are not so excited about autonomous driving to be honest.”
Amen to that.