VW will start testing self-driving cars in the US this month

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Volkswagen is no stranger to testing self-driving cars, but now it’s finally bringing those experiments stateside. The car maker is rolling out its first US fleet of autonomous test vehicles in Austin this month. The 10 modified ID.Buzz electric vans will use longtime partner Mobileye’s Level 4 self-driving system (that is, full autonomy in some conditions) to collect driving data that will “validate and refine” technology. These early machines will include safety drivers.

The German brand plans to both expand its Austin fleet and grow testing to “at least” four more US cities. If all goes well, VW will launch commercial self-driving service in Austin by 2026. It will court third parties, too, by offering fleets of driverless ID.Buzz EVs to other mobility and transportation companies. The company also expects to employ people who previously worked with the defunct autonomous driving startup Argo AI.

The deployment isn’t surprising. Although Ford shuttered Argo to focus on semi-autonomous features in the short term, full self-driving remains a hot category in the US. GM’s Cruise is bringing its robotaxis to more cities, and Waymo is rapidly expanding its service areas. American testing is vital if VW expects to compete with these robotaxi rivals.

The emphasis on self-driving tech also reflects VW’s ongoing transformation into an all-encompassing mobility company. It’s adapting to an era where ridesharing and robotaxis will reduce the need for personal car ownership. Ride hailing and fleet deals could help VW thrive even if its car sales decline over time. Of course, that depends on driverless tech being ready in a timely fashion. Level 3 autonomy (hands-off motoring where the driver must be ready to take control) is only just reaching passenger cars in the US, and then only in limited circumstances. It could be a while before these platforms are advanced enough that autonomous taxis are practical on a large scale.

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Abraham
Expert tech and gaming writer, blending computer science expertise