By Norihiko Shirouzu
BEIJING (Reuters) - Volvo aims to launch an experiment involving self-driving cars in China in which up to 100 such cars could be deployed, the Swedish automaker said on Thursday.
The company laid out its vision for China at an event in Beijing, with Chief Executive Hakan Samuelsson telling Reuters the company is targeting 10 percent year-on-year sales growth this year for the market here.
The planned autonomous drive experiment will see local drivers test the cars on public roads in everyday conditions, and will be conducted in limited driving situations such as on express roads and highways, company executives told Reuters.
"I think we need to build up (consumer) trust in the technology," Samuelsson said. "So you have to bring it out and demonstrate it."
The move is part of the Swedish company's efforts to take advantage of the pledges central government policymakers in China, the world's biggest auto market, have made to embrace futuristic technologies such as self-driving cars.
Volvo, wholly owned by China's Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co [GEELY.UL], is currently scouting for a city that could provide the necessary permissions, regulations and infrastructure to allow the experiment to go ahead, the company said.
"It has to be a big city where there are lots of consumers... wasting an hour a day in the cars (sitting in traffic)," Samuelsson said. "That's I think realistically where this function can be sold commercially."
The automaker did not say by when it hopes to conduct the tests nor did it detail the costs of the experiment.
The self-driving cars that Volvo is envisioning will be like normal cars that alert the driver when autopilot mode can be activated, on freeways or in specific zones such as gated neighborhoods or industrial parks, giving the driver the option to maintain or relinquish control, Samuelsson said.
Driverless cars that are voice controlled without steering wheels and can drive anywhere under any conditions will not become a reality in the foreseeable future, he said.
By calling on cities in China to sign up to participate in the program, Volvo wants to send a message to the Chinese government to "step up to the plate" to make good its often "strident" pledges of commitment to autonomous driving technology made in recent months, a Volvo executive familiar with the planned experiment said ahead of the event.
The China experiment will be patterned after Volvo's own similarly-set-up testing program in the Swedish city of Gothenburg that aims to start deploying self-drive test cars next year.
"What we're doing is giving these cars to people and using real people as our data set, so the information they generate will help us implement the technology," said the executive who declined to be named because he is not authorized to share details of the plans before they are officially announced.
Besides Volvo, Tesla, Mercedes, Audi (VOWG_p.DE) and Alphabet Inc's Google are among those developing self-driving vehicles.
Samuelsson told Reuters that the company aims to sell 200,000 units in Asia Pacific by 2020, one quarter of its planned global sales, with China accounting for the bulk. The automaker sold nearly 82,000 cars in China last year.
Growing sales in China has become key to Volvo's revitalization strategy since Geely purchased the troubled Swedish automaker in 2010.
(Reporting By Norihiko Shirouzu in Beijing; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)