FRANKFURT -- There is still a "tremendous" amount of engineering work to be done before the first robotaxis appear on public roads, ZF Friedrichshafen CEO Wolf-Henning Scheider said, prompting his company to take a step-by-step approach to autonomous driving.
"I'm a little bit more skeptical than some announcements that we've heard," Scheider said at the Frankfurt auto show. "From our point of view, it will take several more years."
The CEO said ZF would introduce its first autonomous shuttles in 2021, on a one-way closed circuit at the Brussels airport.
ZF will deploying the shuttles after taking a majority stake this spring in 2getthere, a Dutch company that makes autonomous vehicles, including the automated guided vehicles, or AGVs, that are seen in many factories.
In a similar project, ZF is working with e.GO, a shuttle maker, and the French company Transdev on autonomous people movers. ZF is supplying electric drive systems, steering systems and its ProAI central computer.
"Step by step, we will evolve the technology into fully autonomous systems in urban areas," Scheider said, "but I wouldn't expect it before 2030."
The executive said that he saw a positive effect to a slower approach: "People can get used to the shuttles and feel comfortable." "Today there's still a lot of hesitation about using a driverless vehicle."
Other automotive executives have recently expressed skepticism about the speed of adopting self-driving cars, citing cost, complexity and the need to prove their safety to a skeptical public.
Ford's Jim Hackett said this spring that "we overestimated the arrival of autonomous vehicles," and companies such as Waymo and Uber have also tempered expectations.
Many automakers and suppliers are now sounding a similar note to ZF: Closed-circuit shuttles will be the only public application of the technology in the next few years.