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VW's newest model, the all-electric ID.Buzz, is the vehicle chosen for the company's autonomous testing program in Austin, Texas. (Volkswagen)

Volkswagen plants autonomous-testing flag in Austin

VW ID.Buzz models with lidar, radar and cameras will eventually expand testing to four other U.S. cities.

Volkswagen Group of America announced on July 6 that it would launch an autonomous test fleet of ID.Buzz EVs in Austin, Texas. The company said that the three-year program would eventually expand to at least four other U.S. cities. 

In a news release, Volkswagen set an ambitious target of 2026 for the commercial launch of SAE Level 4 autonomous vehicles in the U.S. Previously, a Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles executive had said that by the end of 2025, customers could use MOIA, VW’s ride-sharing tech company, to book autonomous trips in Hamburg, Germany. 

Jonas Kulawik, Volkswagen Group of America head of technology communications, told SAE Media that initial operations would be confined to downtown and the East Austin area with later expansion planned. 

The company said it has created a subsidiary ─ Volkswagen Autonomous Driving Mobility and Transport (ADMT) ─ with the sole mission of developing autonomous technology in the U.S., and said the team includes former employees of Argo AI. That company was partially owned by VW and Ford, which shut it down in October 2022. 

Volkswagen’s pursuit of Level 4 autonomy marks a point of divergence from Ford’s vision of Argo AI’s mission. At the time, Ford said it was going to shift its focus from Level 4 autonomy to what it called “Level 2+” and Level 3, in which the driver must be ready to take over control of the vehicle. 

VW’s autonomous program has been developed in partnership with Mobileye. The system on the ID.Buzz vehicles includes cameras, lidar and radar systems. A human safety driver will be in each vehicle. Kulawik said the company is confident it can hit its Level 4 target. “We’ve acquired deep knowledge over the recent years, and with Mobileye, we have a great technology partner that is very strong in scaling the technological experience of the [autonomous driving] system we’re using in our ID.Buzz vehicle fleet.” 

Christian Senger, a member of VW Commercial Vehicles’ board of management, said the Austin program will bring VW closer to enabling commercial mobility options. “This next phase will help us test, validate and refine the technology,” he said. 

Pablo Di Si, president and CEO of VgoA, said the company wanted to take advantage in the future of increased demand for new mobility services, saying the program “will also offer a truly captivating product to support transportation services American consumers can rely on and trust.”  

Eventually, VW wants to be able to sell fleets of ID.Buzz vehicles as part of a program that would include fleet management and remote guidance. The company did say, though, that there are no plans to develop a dedicated ride-hailing or ride-sharing service on its own. 

In addition to Austin, Volkswagen ADMT employs a team in Belmont, California.

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