Days after Ford and Volkswagen expanded their partnership to include autonomous and electric vehicles, the German automaker has revealed new details about their autonomous driving plans.
In a mock interview with the company’s autonomous driving boss, Alexander Hitzinger revealed Volkswagen will launch small fleets of autonomous vehicles “in the near future.” The executive didn’t go into specifics, but suggested these fleets will be limited in scope as legal, economic and technological challenges need to be solved before the company can launch a “large-scale deployment” of autonomous production models.
While autonomous driving technology has come a long way in the past couple of years, Hitzinger said the company has to find solutions for so-called “corner cases” which are bizarre and relatively uncommon issues that autonomous vehicles could encounter. As an example, he noted people driving the wrong way on the highway. This happens somewhat frequently and human drivers know to avoid them. However, autonomous vehicles have to be programmed to do this as simply hitting the brakes could potentially result in a high-speed head-on collision.
As for when we can expect to see autonomous vehicles from Volkswagen, Hitzinger said the company plans to “start using autonomous driving for commercial purposes by the middle of the next decade.” To achieve their goal, the company will be lean heavily on Argo AI which they say will set the “worldwide standard” for autonomous vehicles.
While most people are wary of autonomous vehicles, Hitzinger said drivers will have a choice between driving themselves or letting technology do it for them. However, you’d better have a pretty big bank account as the executive suggested autonomous vehicles will cater to the rich. As he explained, “It is in the premium segment that customers will be most willing to pay a surcharge for a self-driving car, because they can make better use of their time in the car.”
That being said, fully autonomous vehicles won’t be limited to the ultra-rich as Volkswagen says they’re perfect for fleet operators as there is no need to pay a human driver. Thanks to these lower operating costs, Volkswagen expects autonomous vehicles will be deployed by mobility services first.
Hitzinger said Volkswagen is developing autonomous driving technology at a “fast pace” and they’re also working on the “appearance and construction” of the vehicles themselves. The company has already shown several proposals including a number of Sedric concepts.
In the end, Hitzinger says the company doesn’t have any time to waste as he expects only a “few players will succeed in industrializing autonomous driving.” The winners remain to be seen, but the executive believes self-driving cars are a “great opportunity” for the company.