VW committed to 'marathon' of developing autonomous shuttles

4 Wochen, 2 Tage her - 25. März 2024, autocar
VW committed to 'marathon' of developing autonomous shuttles
Firm plans to put German customers in Moia self-driving taxis this year, with bold plans for 2026 launch

Volkswagen is committed to the “marathon” of developing autonomous vehicles, the CEO of its commercial vehicles division has said.

Speaking at the Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles (VWCV) annual press conference, Carsten Intra hailed the progress made by the German firm’s autonomous technology arm, Moia.

Moia currently operates a ride-sharing service using self-driving shuttles in VWCV’s home town of Hanover and will soon offer “test drives for customers this year, under real life road conditions" in Hamburg and Austin, Texas.

Intra added that the ambition was to “really test the fleet”, which has been running on public roads for the past two years.

These vehicles will have a driver behind the wheel to take control in an emergency, but the aim is for the driver to become redundant as soon as possible.

“Only if that runs very well and we have learned how to behave – the interaction between the car and the customers is working – then we are going to pull the security driver as well,” said Intra.

“So we’re starting with a closed user group, then we want to pull the driver, then we want to offer it to a broader audience on a paid per-mile or per-kilometre basis.”

Intra added that the paid service could begin in 2026 and that Moia plans to introduce a “special-purpose vehicle that will come in the end of the decade or the very beginning of the next decade”.

He also hinted, however, that Volkswagen’s timetable for introducing autonomous vehicles is strictly tied to the success of the upcoming trials and that a long road lies ahead.

He said: “One thing is at the centre of everything we do: safety and transparency in the development and the operation. These are the basis of everything we do, and this is why we have always said that anyone addressing autonomous driving these days must be ready for a marathon. And indeed we are.

We're at home on long distances, as our commercial vehicles have amply demonstrated in the past.”

Intra’s words represent Volkswagen's firmest commitment to autonomous vehicles since it shuttered Argo AI, the self-driving start-up it backed alongside Ford, in October 2022.

At the time, Ford CEO Jim Farley attributed the closure of Argo AI to the perceived unprofitability of level-four autonomous vehicles (meaning those without drivers but limited by environmental conditions).

Farley said: “We’re optimistic about a future for level-four ADAS, but profitable, fully autonomous vehicles at scale are a long way off, and we won’t necessarily have to create that technology ourselves.” 

Nonetheless, Volkswagen continues to invest heavily in the technology. Its Autonomous Driving, Mobility and Transport (ADMT) division yesterday announced a new agreement with tech firm Mobileye to bring a level-four-capable version of the Volkswagen ID Buzz electric MPV to market. 

ADMT’s mission is to launch the autonomous ID Buzz in 2026, with the new variant most likely to underpin Moia’s pay-per-mile service, planned to arrive the same year.

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