Volkswagen Group is developing self-driving Volkswagen ID.Buzz electric vans for use in robotaxi services, and testing of prototypes kicked off in the U.S. this month.
An initial test fleet, consisting of ten examples of the shorter global version of the ID.Buzz, is located in Austin, Texas, where VW Group anticipates self-driving ID.Buzz vans will begin operating in a robotaxi service by 2026.
The test fleet will be expanded in the years ahead, including to at least four more U.S. cities, VW Group said on Thursday. For the test phase, the vehicles will have a safety engineer on board.
VW Group doesn't plant to offer its own robotaxi service in the U.S. Instead, the automaker wants to offer its self-driving vans and accompanying fleet management and remote guidance services to other firms specializing in mobility. VW Group didn't mention any firms, but its self-driving vans could conceivably be used in fleets operated by the likes of Uber and Lyft.
Volkswagen ID.Buzz self-driving prototype testing in Austin, Texas - July 2023
The automaker has been testing a separate fleet in Germany for the past couple of years and aims to have a robotaxi service available in Hamburg by 2025, it has previously said. In Germany, the robotaxi service is expected to be operated by VW Group's own Moia mobility business.
It's only been a year since VW Group announced plans to start testing a fleet of self-driving ID.Buzz vans in the U.S., but a lot has happened since then. Retail versions of the ID.Buzz have been delayed by a year, with the electric van now due to start sales in the U.S. in 2024 as a 2025 model. The version bound for U.S. showrooms will be a long-wheelbase model that is an available option in other markets.
VW Group's former leading partner in the robotaxi program, Argo AI, has also been shut down, and VW Group is now working with Intel's Mobileye self-driving technology company. Separately, VW Group is developing self-driving technology via its Cariad software business and supplier Bosch, for privately owned cars. The technology will be available to all VW Group brands, but timing is uncertain.
The self-driving ID.Buzz vans rank at Level 4 on the SAE scale of self-driving capability. A Level 4 vehicle can operate fully on its own for extended periods, though only in set conditions, the main one typically being a geofenced area. The highest ranking is Level 5, which is a vehicle that can function on its own in all of the same conditions expected of a human.