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Volkswagen autonomous cars will be in the mainstream globally by the end of the decade, according to Thomas Schafer, with its commercial vehicles (CV) division leading the charge.

Schafer’s comments were made amid the recent news that Argo, the US-based self-driving start-up in which Volkswagen invested more than $2.6bn in 2019 was shutting down. In response to the move, VW said it was “consolidating its development partnerships,” adding: “Our goal is to offer our customers the most powerful functions at the earliest possible time and to set up our development as cost-effectively as possible.”

Alongside its CV division, VW’s software firm Cariad will drive autonomous development in China while Bosch will be its partner for the rest of the world.

The German car maker’s plans for autonomous driving have been significantly delayed, but no more so than its rivals. All have been faced with the enormity of implementing autonomous driving amid a backdrop of plunging billions in electrification, a global pandemic, chip shortages and the global legislation issues around the technology.

Schafer said: “The technology is available and we are driving in Hamburg and Munich autonomously. The cost of the car is still prohibitive because so little of it gets manufactured. And there’s always the need to prove that the system drives better than a human. The legislation for it is enormous. It’s totally different from country to country.”

He continued: “You have to put focus on [autonomous driving] and that is why we are pushing so hard in the CV division, because once it happens it opens up profit pools and opportunities. I wouldn’t say winner takes it all but it’s a game that you need to be in early. You can not wait and then fast forward so that’s why we’re totally focusing on it.”

Explaining some of VW’s issues rolling out self-driving vehicles, Schafer added: “It’s not as trivial as it seems. It’s the legislation, the camera systems, the chips, the energy consumption and the speed of calculation. The car will be the biggest data collection device there is. It’s really complex.”

In the mid-term, VW’s goal is that customers will be able to book an autonomously driving VW ID Buzz via its Moia ride-hailing service in Hamburg in 2025.

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