Volkswagen to start testing self-driving ID Buzz vans in Austin

Volkswagen has launched an autonomous vehicle test program in Austin using a fleet of 10 all-electric ID Buzz vehicles equipped with partner Mobileye’s technology.

The new program comes about nine months since autonomous vehicle technology startup Argo shut down after its two backers, Volkswagen and Ford, pulled financial support and gobbled up its remains. Argo had been testing its AV technology in Austin last year before it folded.

Now it seems that Volkswagen is back, but with a different partner and plan.

Volkswagen Group of America is leading the effort in the United States and has created a new subsidiary called Volkswagen ADMT (autonomous driving, mobility and transport) that will have teams in Belmont, California and Austin. Volkswagen said it intends to employ former Argo engineers, but didn’t say if these people were already working for Volkswagen.

The plan, at least in these early days, is to begin testing the autonomous vehicle technology developed by Mobileye in Austin. Volkswagen is starting with just a couple of vehicles in July and will expand to all 10 by the end of the year. The vehicles equipped with cameras, lidar, radar and self-driving software will be initially used to collect data. All vehicles will have a human safety operator behind the wheel during this testing phase.

Volkswagen said it plans to expand to at least four more American cities over the next three years. The company intends to launch commercial operations in Austin by 2026.

This doesn’t appear to be a pure robotaxi play, however. Volkswagen of America said it’s not building a dedicated ride hailing service at this time. Instead, it seems VW plans to make money by selling an autonomous vehicle service — self-driving ID Buzz vans and fleet management software— to other companies that want to use it for deliveries or ride-hailing. 

“Expanding our autonomous vehicle program to the North American Region is the next step in our global strategic roadmap, and the result of a long-term collaborative investment”, said Christian Senger, member of the board of management of Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, said in a statement. “Moving into this next phase will help us test, validate and refine technology, bring us closer to establishing commercially available transportation offerings and eventually grow the diverse mobility portfolio for the Volkswagen Group.”

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