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November 6, 2019 5:45 PM, EST

VW Considers Sharing Autonomous-Car Tech to Defray Development Costs

Workers at a Volkswagen plant Workers on the production line at Volkswagen's plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. (Mark Elias/Bloomberg News)

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Volkswagen AG is open to sharing future autonomous-vehicle systems with other manufacturers as it races to catch up with the likes of Waymo LLC in cost-intensive technologies that could transform the way people and goods move, according to an executive at the German automaker.

Joint projects beyond a deal with Ford Motor Co. signed in July — that includes a $2.6 billion investment in its U.S. peer’s affiliate Argo AI LLC — could help spread out costs more widely, said Alexander Hitzinger, VW’s senior vice president for autonomous driving.

“We do have to catch up in some fields, but we’re not massively far behind here, and as VW Group we can really generate very large economies of scale,” Hitzinger told Bloomberg on the sidelines of a press briefing in Hamburg. “And this will be a scale game,” he said.

Alexander Hitzinger, VW’s senior vice president for autonomous driving

Hitzinger

VW’s efforts to develop robotic cars date back more than a decade to tests hosted by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, in the U.S. But the industrial giant’s unwieldy corporate structure — with operations scattered across 12 automotive brands and 122 factories worldwide — led to fragmented development that allowed quicker rivals to take the lead.

Hitzinger, who rejoined VW Group from Apple Inc. after previously holding key engineering positions at Porsche’s motorsport operations, now oversees a newly formed unit dubbed Volkswagen Autonomy GmbH that’s aimed at bundling projects more efficiently.

The division will have offices in Germany, Silicon Valley and China to attract top talent and develop highly automated driving systems — so-called Level 4 autonomy — that can be scaled up for commercial production starting around 2025.

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