Volkswagen is determined to pivot towards electric and autonomous vehicles to escape the diesel emissions scandal. Volkswagen’s Truck and Bus division announced it will invest 1.4 billion euros ($1.7 billion) in electric drivetrains, autonomous driving systems, and cloud-based trucking solutions.
Increasing numbers of cities, including London, Paris, and Stuttgart, plan to ban gasoline and diesel vehicles in the coming decades to improve air quality. France, the United Kingdom, and Germany might follow suit nation-wide. Automakers are scrambling to head off regulatory changes and stake a claim to future markets for zero-emissions vehicles. Volkswagen has pledged a full slate of electric passenger vehicles, now they need to deliver commercial vehicles.
This announcement puts Volkswagen in direct competition with other companies working on connected freight systems. The crowded field includes established automakers like Volvo, Daimler-Benz, and Tesla and start-ups like Uber Freight, Peloton, and Waymo. The first company to bring a road-ready autonomous trucking system to market will have a huge advantage in a sector poised for rapid growth. For now, Volkswagen’s autonomous division is focused on closed environments, airports, parking lots, mines, and manufacturing facilities. VW plans to be ready for commercial production of self-driving models like snow plows and mining trucks within two years. Their commercial client base will give them useful partners to test and refine any autonomous systems for more complex environments, but they need to move fast to develop a version ready for the open road.
While the company’s new push towards automation lags behind their competitors at the moment, the automaker is better positioned to ramp-up production of commercial electric vehicles. Volkswagen has a battery-powered e-Delivery truck in production that will arrive in 2020. The manufacturer’s MAN and Scania marques will both offer electric buses to European cities in 2018. This will put them in a strong position to mitigate the consequences of any diesel and gasoline bans.