Volkswagen will start testing its driverless ID. Buzz in Austin, Texas

Enlarge / If you go to Austin, you might see one of these ID. Buzzes out for a drive.

Volkswagen

Volkswagen Group has picked Austin, Texas, as the location for its first autonomous driving program in North America. In July, the automaker is deploying some of its ID. Buzz electric vans to the city, outfitted with Mobileye’s autonomous driving tech to start a three-year pilot program. However, unlike in Germany, VW has no plans to build its own ride hailing service here; instead, it’s developing autonomous ID. Buzzes for use by fleets. Back in 2016—before the ID. Buzz was even the ID. Buzz—VW created a new brand ride-hailing company called Moia, which has been testing autonomously driven electric vans on the streets of Hamburg for several years now.

Things have not gone entirely smoothly. In 2019 VW Group invested $2.6 billion in Argo AI, an autonomous vehicle startup backed by Ford. At the time, Argo’s self-driving stack was to be incorporated into future autonomous VWs as well as autonomous Fords. But Ford’s original timeline of launching a commercial level 4 autonomous vehicle ride-hailing service by 2021 fell by the wayside, and in October last year VW and Ford decided to shutter Argo, just a month after it started offering autonomous ride hailing with Lyft.

At the time, VW said it was consolidating its autonomous driving research activities, including programs with Bosch in Europe and Horizon Robotics in China.

Here in the US, VW says it plans to employ former Argo staff in a new subsidiary called Volkswagen Autonomous Driving Mobility and Transport.

To begin with, 10 ID. Buzz EVs will be testing on the streets of Austin—though with a human supervisor in the driver’s seat for now. “We selected Austin as the first US hub, as the city has a track record for embracing innovation and offers a conducive climate for the testing of autonomous vehicles. We are committed to continuing an open and collaborative dialogue with the city and its diverse stakeholders,” said Katrin Lohmann, president of VW ADMT.

VW says it has no plans to establish a service like Moia in the US. Instead, it wants to sell autonomous vehicles to other businesses. “Expanding our autonomous vehicle program to the North American Region is the next step in our global strategic road map and the result of a long-term collaborative investment,” said Christian Senger, a VW board member responsible for commercial vehicles. “Moving into this next phase will help us test, validate, and refine technology; bring us closer to establishing commercially available transportation offerings; and eventually grow the diverse mobility portfolio for the Volkswagen Group,” Senger said.

VW ADMT will begin testing with a fleet of 10 ID. Buzzes in Austin, although it says it plans to expand both the number of test vehicles as well adding at least four more North American cities as test locations.

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