Can they do it successfully?
Salim Mehmood finds it difficult to park his car in the narrow space of his apartment’s congested lotin Hyderabad Colony in Karachi. A few times he even hit a neighbor’s car and had to pay for the break-light and endure the wrath of his elder brother for scratches to their own car doors.
Changan may have an answer to Mehmood’s problem and people like him. The company is testing self-parking and to some extent the self-driving Level-3 autonomous compact SUV Uni-T.
It is the Chinese automaker’s first vehicle in the new UNI series.
Marketing and sales director Shabbiruddin says that road conditions are different in China andPakistan. “That is the reason we are testing it first.”
He said that the biggest problem autonomous driving technology will face in Pakistan is that many roads doesn’t have lanes.
“It will tell the driver that the driver has to take over steering because of a lack of lanes,” he said. “It needs lanes on roads to assess the right direction.”
Autonomous driving will be safer in low-visibility conditions such fog and rain.
According to a Bloomberg report, autonomous driving technology could help prevent 3,000 deaths from accidents across the globe daily.
Shabbiruddin said that the response time to apply brakes in autonomous cars is quicker than in humans therefore the technology would eventually make driving safer with fewer accidents. “At the moment, it is legally binding for a driver to in the driving seat. Above a certain speed limit, for instance 40km/h, a driver must keep their hands on the steering otherwise the car will begin warning.”
But will Mehmood be able to afford a Uni-T? The 1500cc turbo five-seater is selling for around Rs3.5 million in China (138,000 Yuan). It will be taxed approximately the same amount. If launched in Pakistan, the car with a futuristic shape may be around Rs7 million.
Changan Pakistan says they want to be trendsetters in Pakistan.
“It’s a good feature,” said Shakaib Khan, an auto sector analyst who runs SK Motor Syndicate. “But it will not be enough for car buyers in Pakistan to opt for a Chinese car over tried and tested Japanese cars.”
“I don’t think if the price bracket is comparable, the Uni-T would be preferred over a Hybrid Toyota Corolla Cross by Pakistani buyers.”
The cheapest variant of a Corolla Cross is selling for Rs7.7 million.
Khan added that options have been introduced in cars such as adaptive cruise control, anti-collision and automated parking.
“This will be an advancement to such features. But autonomous Level 3 doesn’t mean the car can drive by itself,” he explained. “It would help with driverless parking, keeping your eyes off the windscreen while in traffic jams. However, it will not mean that you sit in your car at office and it will drop you home and park by itself. A driver should always be at the wheel.”
He added that it has yet to be seen how such cars respond to Pakistan’s road infrastructure whensignal lights don’t work or there are potholes and people drive badly.
“People may prefer the Corolla Cross with fewer features but established brand names than a feature-full Chinese car,” he said.
The UNI-T comes equipped with an AI-chip based intelligent vehicle system creating a human-machine interactive experience. The driver can interact with the system through a dual screen touch interface, intelligent voice activation, and a facial recognition system.
The Chinese company has sold nearly 1.2 million intelligent networked vehicles. Changan Auto has sold over 20 million vehicles globally.
Changan Pakistan has already launched mini pick-ups M10 and M9, minivan Karvaan and a sedan car Alsvin.
It claims that it plans to introduce electric vehicles. Changan in China is looking to ensure all its vehicles have electric models too by 2022.
Changan Pakistan, registered under Master Changan Motors Limited, acquired Greenfield status under the Auto Policy 2016-2021 and entered a joint venture with Changan Auto with an investment crossing $136 million.
The company opened a plant in Karachi with an annual production capacity exceeding 50,000 units. Changan Auto has selected Pakistan as a strategic export base for right-hand drive countries. Changan Pakistan says it will be the first time in the history of Pakistan that locally made vehicles will be exported.