Volkswagen plans call for the introduction of autonomous vehicles by 2025. The company is currently developing self-driving systems produced by Argo AI for a version of the future ID.Buzz for ride-hailing and carpooling.
The automaker expects to reveal the all-electric ID.Buzz next year. It will have room for seven adults, and be powered by a 225-kilowatt driveline. The ID.Buzz takes its design from the original Volkswagen Type 2 Microbus, and will be the seventh generation of the design when it debuts.
The plans come in addition to the automaker’s intention of bringing an all-electric version of the Volkswagen Bulli, which will also be converted into an autonomous vehicle.
Automaker reveals new brand
The announcement by Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, a brand within the Volkswagen Group, came after the Supervisory Board meeting of the Volkswagen Group on Friday.
“This year, for the first time, we are conducting field trials in Germany,” said Christian Senger, head of Autonomous Driving for Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles in a statement. “In the middle of this decade, our customers will then have the opportunity to be taken to their destination in selected cities with autonomous vehicles.”
VW did not specifically reveal where the first autonomous vehicles would be implemented.
The responsibility of developing of fully autonomous systems for commercial use falls squarely on Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles. These vehicles will be ideal for urban areas through the use of robo-taxis, vans and other specialty vehicles.
But Volkswagen’s investment in Argo AI isn’t their only autonomous vehicle development project.
The company is also investing billions of euros in developing its own software company, the Car.Software Organization, independently of its project with Argo AI with the intention of producing up to level 4 autonomous vehicles for other brands within the Volkswagen Group, with the software named “I.D.Pilot.”
The first fruits of a long-term investment
Volkswagen partnered with Ford Motor Co. in investing in the autonomous vehicle platform company, at a valuation of more than $7 billion. The agreement allows both automakers to independently integrate Argo AI’s self-driving system into their own vehicles.
The joint venture helps defray the high cost of autonomous vehicle development. Argo AI is committing more than $4 billion through 2023 to the development of its self-driving systems, concentrating on software, vehicle development, fleet operations and customer experience.
Volkswagen invested $2.6 billion equally in Pittsburgh-based software company, including $1 billion in cash, and agreeing to have Argo take over its AID (Autonomous Intelligent Driving) subsidiary and its more than 200 employees, with the intention of rolling out its self-driving systems for commercial vehicle use in the U.S. and Europe.
Ford partnership grows
For its part, Ford will use Volkswagen’s electric vehicle architecture and Modular Electric Toolkit (MEB) to design and build at least one high-volume fully electric vehicle for Europe in 2023. Both manufacturers plan to develop their own commercial vans and medium pickups.
“While Ford and Volkswagen remain independent and fiercely competitive in the marketplace, teaming up and working with Argo AI on this important technology allows us to deliver unmatched capability, scale and geographic reach,” said then-Ford president and CEO Jim Hackett during the deal’s announcement in July 2019.
Argo AI CEO Bryan Salesky, co-founder of the company, agreed.
“Thanks to Ford and Volkswagen, Argo AI technology could one day reach nearly every market in North America and Europe, applied across multiple brands and to a multitude of vehicle architectures.”
Argo AI was founded in 2016 year by CEO Bryan Salesky and COO Peter Rander. Salesky was the head of hardware at Alphabet’s Waymo division, while Rander was a top engineer in Uber Technologies’ autonomous-vehicle division. Both hail from the robotics institute at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
The announcement comes as the United Nations Global Compact agreed to reinstate the company as a participant in its environmental protection efforts.