Monday 28 October 2019 2:31 pm

Volkswagen throws down the gauntlet to Silicon Valley on self-driving cars

Europe’s biggest car manufacturer has shifted its fight against Silicon Valley’s nascent self-driving car industry up a gear.

Volkswagen has announced the foundation of Volkswagen Autonomy, or VWAT, its own self-driving tech subsidiary, to take on the likes of rivals such as Google’s Waymo.

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The German giant hopes to use its start-up to commercialise self-driving taxis and vans by the middle of the next decade. It said this morning that VWAT will initially be headquartered in Munich and Volkswagen’s hometown of Wolfsburg, but that it would also pitch up in Silicon Valley next year, followed by China in 2021, giving it reach over three continents.

Alexander Hitzinger, a former Apple engineer who is now senior vice president for autonomous driving at VW, will head up the unit. He said: “We want to establish Volkswagen Autonomy as a global technology company where we bundle expertise from the automotive and technology industries, combining the agility and creativity of a high-performance culture with process orientation and scalability.”

The move throws down the gauntlet to the likes of Waymo, which has dominated the self-driving car industry from Silicon Valley for several years, closely followed by General Motors-owned Cruise.

Volkswagen has thus far been playing catch-up. Waymo was founded more than a decade ago, and claims it will soon be shuttling members of the public around in its driverless cars, which have already undergone years of testing in Arizona. Last month, the Google subsidiary emailed employees to tell them “completely driverless Waymo cars are on the way”.

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Volkswagen’s Hitzinger added: “Autonomous driving presents the entire industry with major challenges: high development costs, extremely high demands on sensor technology plus a lack of regulatory systems and heterogeneous regional standards.”

“Our goal is to build an agile, high-performance development team with the know-how to realise a self-driving system ready to market.”