Volkswagen Group of America (VWGoA) launched its autonomous driving mobility and transport (ADMT) test programme in the US this week. Two Volkswagen ID. Buzz AD (autonomous driving) electric microbuses, fitted with autonomous driving hardware and software, are already at the brand’s Austin test site, and a total of 10 vehicles will be testing on the road in the coming weeks, said the brand in a press briefing.

Volkswagen will conduct initial tests in a geofenced area in downtown and east Austin. The German carmaker’s goal is to provide zero-emissions autonomous ride-hailing services in the city from 2026. Tests with the ID. Buzz AD are also underway in Europe, and the same test vehicles will be used in Austin, said Katrin Lohmann, the head of Volkswagen’s autonomous vehicle test program in the US.

Select US cities already employ robotaxis from General Motors’ Cruise and Alphabet’s Waymo. “The beauty in Austin is there’s already competition. We are starting in a real area, which we appreciate,” said Christian Sengar, member of the board of management of Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, responsible for developing autonomous driving.

Test vehicles in the Texan city will be supervised by an onboard safety driver and will be equipped with cameras, radar, and lidar.

The Wolfsburg-based brand's self-driving endeavours involve multiple partnerships. Israel-based Mobileye, purchased by Intel in 2017, has developed the technology stack for the ID. Buzz AD. Its previous partnership with Argo AI ended last year. VW retained around 100 members from the Argo AI team, who have expertise in fleet control apps, booking platforms, and safety conditions in the US. The company also took over the start-up’s Austin hub.

Gallery: Volkswagen Launches Autonomous Driving Test Program In The US

Mobileye and VW’s software arm Cariad are working closely to make self-driving ID. Buzz vans a reality in the near future. “Argo had a very strong tech stack, but Mobileye has more reliability and more mature software. That gives it a better performance in conquering the cities,” said Sengar. VW already offers zero-emissions transport in Hamburg, Germany, in partnership with ride-sharing service provider Moia.

The ID. Buzz AD will begin driverless ride-sharing operations in Hamburg, Germany, from 2025 onwards. When asked how many miles of testing VW aims to conduct in the US, Sengar said, “It’s not that we are aiming for this multi-million miles collection that we see in existing communication box of our competitors. It’s more or less based on the tremendous simulation system available, which is also fed from a million passenger cars every day.”

Before the autonomous ride-hailing service begins in 2026, VW will conduct testing with a closed user group starting in 2024.