The ultimate goal of Volkswagen Autonomy is to drive the vehicles from VW autonomously. However, former Apple engineer Alex Hitzinger calls it “the world’s best-funded start-up.” Hitzinger, Volkswagen Group’s senior vice president of autonomous driving, will manage the subsidiary. He reportedly worked on Apple’s electric car initiatives before moving to Volkswagen.
However, the company does not go headfirst into autonomous car production. Currently, it is its job to test jointly developed by Ford and VW software Argo AI, with which vehicles can navigate with minimal human intervention. Speaking to the Financial Times, Hitzinger admits that “Waymo [Google] is still ahead”. But in the long run, that may not be a big deal. He suspects that automakers are “a long way from a real commercial product.”
In addition, VWAT does not focus on passenger cars. Rather, “special vehicles” such as shuttle buses and buses are used as a proof-of-concept, before being switched to standard saloons, hatchbacks and SUVs. “We plan to market autonomous driving from the middle of the next decade on a large scale,” says Hitzinger in the press release from VW.
Last year, VW promised to park itself by 2020 – a feature common to many vehicles available to the public. Volkswagen tested autonomous saloons on the streets of Hamburg earlier this year – much later than some other manufacturers. While VW seems to be behind the scenes in autonomous vehicles, investing in software like Argo AI can help keep the company from being too late for the autonomous driving party.