BEIJING (Reuters) - The Chinese owner of Swedish car brand Volvo said on Wednesday that the autonomous driving industry should move forward prudently in the wake of a deadly accident in the United States this month that has rekindled a debate about safety.
Li Shufu, the head of Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co Ltd said at an event in Beijing it was important for automakers and governments to look at regulations and what sort of standards were needed to keep people safe.
“One accident can kill the whole industry... So we must move with caution,” Li, who took a $9 billion stake in German carmaker Daimler AG last month, said at a Volvo-sponsored event on connected and automated cars.
He said excessive haste would backfire, and that a single accident could delay progress by as much as a year.
“The accident reminds us that no matter how fast we develop, safety is the number one priority,” he said. “If safety cannot be guaranteed, no automated cars (should be allowed).”
The comments come as the global industry reels from a fatal accident in the Tempe, Arizona, involving a self-driving car from Uber Technologies Inc, the first death attributed to a self-driving car operating in autonomous mode.
Uber has suspended North American tests of its autonomous vehicles after the fatal collision on March 18. Its partner, chipmaker Nvidia Corp, said this week it has also suspended self-driving tests across the globe.
The accident has ramped up pressure on the industry to prove its software and sensors are safe.
Volvo Cars Chief Executive Hakan Samuelsson said accidents were unfortunate and the industry had to move carefully, but that “saying no to technology would be the wrong answer” given human error was also a big factor in many collisions.
“Technology is still the most promising answer to reducing (accidents),” he said at the event in Beijing.
In China, official support for driverless technology remains strong. The government gave its consent to internet firm Baidu Inc to test self-driving cars on city streets just days after the fatal accident in the United States.
Baidu, which has a self-driving project dubbed Apollo, is leading China’s push in driverless technology, with the government keen to keep up with global rivals such as Tesla Inc and Waymo, the self-driving arm of Google parent Alphabet Inc.
Reporting by Norihiko Shirouzu; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Christopher Cushing