Speaking to the media at the launch of the new CX-5 in Los Angeles today, Mazda Australia boss Martin Benders, said the Japanese brand’s philosophy is to always put the driver at the forefront of the car’s operations.
“Mazda’s philosophy has been that we make the car as good as we can for the driver and we put all the other stuff up as backup” Benders said.
“So we don’t think it makes sense or we haven’t heard any rational argument that says put the autonomous stuff up front and the human steps up in the end when something goes wrong.
"[Tesla’s] Autopilot has proven that, so you just have to be careful because if humans aren’t paying attention, then you really don’t have a lot of time to get their attention when the car is going ‘what’s happening?’."
According to Benders, the current societal and automotive structures are not conducive to a successful introduction of autonomous vehicle technologies.
“The car parks out there and the drivers out there and all the rest of it, that interaction [with autonomous cars] is going to end in tears until there is a massive infrastructure change,” he said.
Mazda’s driver-first approach, Benders says, is the way forward for the time being.
“So I think it’s better to have a car that engages the driver, that you feel in control so this other stuff, if you’re doing something a little bit off, the car will help you correct.
"If you look at it, some of the other brands are taking that [same] line, but some are going 'autonomous is all that you want' - but I think we have a long way to go before autonomous driving becomes anything like a reality, despite all these brands saying we are going to have one by 2021 or 2025 or whatever.
“If you go to some of the tertiary institutions that are studying that stuff they will say all the hype is way ahead of reality, we really have to experiment with this stuff in real life the way we are using it to support the driver, rather than dragging the driver along and saying look we can look after things. It doesn’t work.”
Even so, Benders believe that it will be inevitable in the medium to long term future that cars will become fully autonomous, suggesting that the technology will be mature enough by then that fitting it won’t be an issue for Mazda.
“Anytime that becomes a requirement, you can dial that in, we are still learning how all that works.”
Brands such as Tesla already offer very advanced autonomous driving technology while the likes of Mercedes, Audi, BMW and Volvo have put it at the forefront of their future technologies.
Meanwhile, brands such as Apple, Google and Uber are investing massive resources into autonomous vehicle R&D.