Volkswagen to ramp up driverless vehicle research

VW’s new international research unit aims to close the gap between rivals such as Google Waymo

Volkswagen has announced the creation of what it calls “the world’s best-funded start-up” as it aims for a place at the forefront of driverless vehicle research.

The carmaker’s Volkswagen Autonomy venture, also known as VWAT, will be based at the VW headquarters in Wolfsburg. It will also have a branch in Silicon Valley, in acknowledgement of the strides being made in autonomous vehicle technology by major tech sector firms such as Google.

One of VWAT’s first projects will be to produce self-driving versions of the ID Buzz, VW’s new minivan and cargo van concept, expected in 2022. It will also be tasked with testing and commercialising the algorithms produced by Argo AI, a US software business that received $2.6 billion (£2bn, €2.34bn) of investment from VW earlier this year.

Former Apple engineer Alexander Hitzinger, who will lead VWAT, said he hoped to see driverless taxis and delivery vans on city streets by the middle of the next decade. He added that VWAT would work to “commercialise full autonomy — make it product ready.”

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The creation of VWAT is being seen as a belated acknowledgement of the threat that autonomous vehicles could pose to VW’s core market. A study by Accenture, published earlier this month, found that nearly half of car owners would consider giving up their vehicles in favour of an autonomous mobility solution.

Axel Schmidt, who leads Accenture’s mobility industry practice globally, said, “Traditional car companies need to begin fully embracing alternatives to the ownership model – becoming brokers of mobility solutions rather than just car manufacturers.”

Experts consider VW to be lagging behind rivals such as Google Waymo in the race to produce commercially viable driverless vehicles.

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