AMSTERDAM—Lexus will reveal its first car with autonomous driving capability this year but buyers will not be able use the feature to take their eyes off the road until an upgrade is issued at a later date.
Lexus first revealed plans to launch a car with autonomous capability in 2017 when it presented a concept previewing a new LS large sedan.
The new model will be "hands off but not eyes off," Lexus President Koji Sato told Automotive News Europe on the sidelines of a Toyota press event in Amsterdam. "It will start from Level 2 but it will have over-the-air updates so that for the future we can update the level," Sato said.
He did not comment on whether customers would have to pay extra to activate autonomous features, as Tesla does with its Full Self-Driving feature in the U.S.
Sato also did not say which model will offer the the technology or in which markets it would be offered.
The level of autonomy in the car will depend on what regulators allow in the markets where it will be sold. "Regulation and also social concerns may effect what level we can produce in the real world," Sato said.
Auto makers in Europe are becoming increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of legislative approval for advanced autonomous driving, where drivers can let the car take over in highway situations but must be ready to take back control at any point.
Volkswagen Group's Audi brand was the first to develop "eyes-off" conditional Level 3 autonomous functionality with the A8 flagship sedan that launched in late 2018. However, the system, called Traffic Jam Pilot, has yet to be approved for sale by regulators.
Mercedes-Benz is preparing to launch Level 3 autonomy in its S-class flagship sedan this year while BMW has said it will debut Level 3 capability in its iNEXT electric crossover in 2021.
The new Lexus model will feature an automated driving system called Highway Teammate developed by Denso that uses lidar as well as cameras to help guide the car.
The technology will enable the Lexus to automatically change lanes, follow lanes and pass vehicles in highway driving.
Except for the three premium German brands, global auto makers have been wary of rolling out Level 3 autonomous capability, given the need for the driver to switch attention to the road again at a moment's notice.
At the Tokyo auto show in October Hajime Kumabe, Denso's engineer in charge of automated driving technology, said that not many companies are saying they want to introduce Level 3 autonomy.
"Denso's opinion is that Level 3 is a bit of a compromise," Kumabe said. "I think that way of thinking is on the increase."
Lexus' Sato said current system for categorizing autonomous levels was too vague to be helpful. "Level 2 can almost cross to Level 3, and Level 3 sometimes also can be Level 2," he said.
Lexus's aim is roll out the technology to all models. "All out vehicles need to offer safe, confident drive," he said. "Our aim is to share and roll out this technology to other vehicles."