LAS VEGAS — Volkswagen has created a sub-division named Volkswagen Autonomy tasked with developing self-driving technology for all of the group's brands. Fittingly announced on the sidelines of CES 2020, the brand will be a standalone entity that will operate in Munich, Wolfsburg, Beijing, and a city in Silicon Valley named Belmont.
"Volkswagen Autonomy is the group's center of competence for the development of autonomous technology," explained Alex Hitzinger, the division's CEO, during a media roundtable. He added its mission is to make self-driving cars a reality at a global scale, and create technology for the group's brands.
Designing a self-driving car is incredibly expensive, so scale is key. To that end, the tech startup Argo AI, which Ford and Volkswagen are both investing billions of dollars into as part of their burgeoning partnership, will bolster Autonomy's development efforts around the world. The German automaker quickly pointed it's not essentially taking over and renaming Argo, however; each entity will be responsible for a different part of the technology.
"We need full control over the systems, because, as an OEM, we're responsible for safety, and for the integration into our vehicles. Volkswagen Autonomy will do that. Argo will concentrate on core software," Hitzinger said.
Autonomy will reach the public in stages. Its engineers will notably develop the technology that will power the fleet of autonomous shuttles inspired by the ID Buzz concept that Volkswagen plans to roll out during the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Doha, Qatar. Hitzinger told Autoblog engineers will be able to upgrade the technology packed in the vans in 2024 or 2025. That's also when it will be ready for commercial applications.
In recent years, many of the key players in the automotive industry have collectively adopted a more realistic stance about autonomous driving than in the beginning of the 2010s, and Hitzinger joined the chorus. Technology is advancing quickly, but there are some hurdles which will take much more than billion-dollar deals to clear.
"Level 5, in my view, is a theory," he said. "That means full autonomy, everywhere, at any point in time. That maybe will never happen; who knows? I always talk about Level 4."