“From Argo, we are [in the process of] taking over nearly 100 individuals, and they bring all the operations competencies in the team. They had their own fleet control app and booking platform; this is also coming to us, and a lot of knowledge about safety conditions on U.S. ground and so on, as well as the hub in Austin, which we took over,” Senger explained. “We are really stepping in the [footsteps] of Argo, but with a total different tech setup and a little differentiated business approach.”
In Austin, the company will initially use short-wheelbase versions of the ID Buzz electric minivan imported from Europe for the testing program. They will be equipped with the Mobileye technology stack. Later, the company plans to transition to similarly equipped long-wheelbase versions of the ID Buzz, like those that will go on sale next year in North America.
“The big aim is that we bring fully autonomous vehicles to the market as a commercial, scalable product,” Senger said. “We want to be partners of the cities. We want to improve mobility in cities, road safety, and we want to be a real alternative to a private car.”
VW has been running experiments with ride-hailing and autonomous versions of those services in its native Germany for several years. But Katrin Lohmann, president of VW ADMT — which stands for Autonomous Driving Mobility and Transport, under VW Commercial Vehicles — said U.S. cities present a higher potential for the underlying business case than do operations in Europe, where VW has been experimenting through its Moia subsidiary.
“The U.S. is already more mature in terms of ride-hailing,” Lohmann said. “Cities [in the U.S.] are growing and growing, and therefore we think that the overall market potential in the U.S. will be bigger than the market potential in” Europe.