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Volkswagen creates autonomy division for self-driving cars

VW believes autonomous-car tech will be available at a wide scale for commercial vehicles come the mid-2020s.

Volkswagen badge on steering wheel
VW, like others, believes the future is self-driving.
Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

We don't know when self-driving cars and associated technology will fully take over roads, but automakers know something just as important. If you don't have skin in the game now, you can't expect to reap the potential rewards laster -- even if they come with substantial price tags today.

Nevertheless, Volkswagen has taken a rather large step into the segment with the establishment of Volkswagen Autonomy (VWAT) on Monday. The company calls the newly formed subsidiary a "center of excellence for autonomous driving" and it will focus on everything related to building Level 4 and and Level 5 systems. On the SAE scale of autonomy, Level 4 and 5 systems do not require any human intervention, even if something goes awry.

Although Level 4 and 5 systems will be the priority, VWAT won't at first home in on passenger vehicles. Instead, the company will pool its efforts to develop solutions for urban environments to move people and goods. The commercial sector is where VW believes we'll first see the technology deployed at scale; in the announcement, VW laid out a mid-2020s timeline for when we'll see self-driving tech take off in the commercial sector.

VWAT won't exactly be alone on this venture, though. Following a closer alliance with Ford, announced earlier this year, the automaker said it would take a stake in Argo AI. The self-driving technology company has worked closely with Ford since it too purchased a stake. VW said Argo and VWAT will work together to help build its self-driving systems.

Alexander Hitzinger, tapped to lead the division and formerly vice president of autonomous driving within VW Group, underscored the high development costs and said VWAT's mission will be to create an agile team to bring this technology to market in the most efficient way possible.

Volkswagen Autonomy will be a global enterprise with the first offices calling Munich and Wolfsburg home. Next year, the German automaker plans to open an office in Silicon Valley, and in 2021, the division will land in China. By the end of this year, all resources will be fully transferred out of VW Group and to the new subsidiary.

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