Volkswagen announces plans for autonomous robo-vans

  • Volkswagen vans to build first self-driving vehicle in the VW Group
  • Will be based on the ID Buzz electric van
  • Also plans to build robot taxis. No, seriously…

The first Volkswagen self-driving vehicle will be based on the ID Buzz / ID.7 electric van - design sketch

Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles has announced that it is working on autonomous driving technology, and that the production version of the ID Buzz – expected to be called the VW ID.7 – will be the first Volkswagen Group product to ‘drive autonomously’. VWCV also says it ‘will develop and build Special Purpose Vehicles (SPV), such as robo-taxis and vans’ in the future.

Autonomous driving tech refers to so-called self-driving cars – or rather vans, in this case – and it comes in several levels. At the least ambitious end of the scale, these levels cover adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assistance; but VW appears to be talking about proper urban autonomous driving, particularly in the form of ‘ride-hailing’ that will take customers between inner-city locations without a human behind the wheel.

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The first autonomous VW will be a van?

Not only that, but it would seem that responsibility for much of the development of autonomous driving within the VW Group has been handed to Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles.

It won’t be working alone. Volkswagen CV and alliance-partner Ford have ‘invested equally’ in a firm called Argo AI, which has carved itself a niche specialising in ‘software platforms for Autonomous Driving’.

And we’re not talking about pocket change here. VW (almost casually) refers to an ‘initial investment of one billion US-Dollars’ – that’s currently around £717 million plus has moved its own subsidiary AID (Autonomous Intelligent Driving) into Argo as well.

Beyond this, ‘the budget for autonomous driving’ has now been confirmed by the Volkswagen Group supervisory board. So this really is happening.

What exactly will Volkswagen vans be doing with autonomous driving?

Well, aside from promising that a future version of the ID Buzz electric van will use Argo AI self-driving software – and confirming that ‘field trials’ will begin this year (2021) in Germany – VWCV will be ‘responsible for the development of fully autonomous systems and their commercial use in urban areas.’

This is where the robo-taxis come in. Seems VW really reckons that by around about 2025, in some places you’ll be able to call up a vehicle – probably using an app on your phone – to collect and drive you from one city destination to another without any other human intervention.

Given how erratically some much less complex autonomous safety systems continue to behave, even now – and we’re talking things like autonomous emergency braking, which has been around for years – we’ll file all this under ‘believe it when we see it’.

But there’s no denying the seriousness of VW’s intent.

So Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles really is serious about this?

To quote the CEO of VWCV, Carsetn Intra: ‘With the confirmation of the [VW Group]’s supervisory board for our Autonomous Driving R&D program, we are setting the course for the future of mobility. Autonomous, electric driving will make an important contribution to urban mobility and road safety. Our vehicles are the logical first choice to apply such systems to.’

Further to this, Volkswagen’s head of autonomous driving, Christian Senger, added: ‘This year [2021], for the first time, we are conducting field trials in Germany, in which the self-driving system by Argo AI will be used in a version of the future ID. BUZZ by Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles.’

He continued: ‘The aim is to develop a ride-hailing and pooling concept similar to what MOIA offers today.  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.’

MOIA is the VW Group’s equivalent to Uber, essentially, although it’s based on larger vehicles (the VW Transporter-based Volkswagen Multivan, equivalent to the UK’s VW Caravelle) and only active in Hanover and Hamburg. Operations are also currently suspended due to Covid-19.

Any other news about the ID Buzz?

Just to recap, the ID Buzz is an electric van that will come in passenger and cargo variants. Roughly the size of today’s Volkswagen Transporter, it’s expected to be called the ID.7 when it goes into production.

The same press release covering the new autonomous-driving tech also confirms that the ID Buzz / ID.7 will get its world premier in 2022 (we’ve already seen concept versions of both the passenger model and the van).

We can’t wait to find out more, including whether there’s going to be a Ford version – which would make some sense given Ford and VW are working closely together on future commercial vehicles and Ford’s use of Volkswagen’s ID electric vehicle platform for cars.

Also read:

>> VW ID Buzz Cargo all-electric van concept world debut

>> Project Cyclone: Ford and Volkswagen strategic alliance – full details

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