April 3, 2019 10:45 AM, EDT

VW Joins BMW in Testing Self-Driving Cars on German City Streets

vwKrisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg News

Volkswagen AG has started testing five electric and highly-automated versions of its Golf compact cars on the streets of Hamburg, Germany.

The vehicles, equipped with safety drivers as well as lasers, radars and scanners, will navigate a 3-kilometer area in the northern German city, which is also building a new testing ground complete with intelligent traffic lights.

“To make driving even safer and more comfortable in future, vehicles not only have to become autonomous and more intelligent — cities must also provide a digital ecosystem that enables vehicles,” Axel Heinrich, VW’s head of research, said April 3 in a statement.

VW’s effort is part of the car industry’s race to keep up with Waymo, the autonomous driving unit of Alphabet Inc.’s Google, which is widely seen as the leader for future robo-taxis. To advance the effort and save costs, companies are also forming alliances, including BMW AG’s plan to team up with Daimler AG on self-driving cars. While most are pushing for cars that’ll eventually be driverless, some like French manufacturer PSA Group have decided to pull back for cost reasons.

Autonomous vehicles are ranked on a scale from one to five, ranging from cars without any assistance systems to vehicles without drivers. BMW has been testing so-called Level 4 highly automated vehicles — the same as VW’s Golfs — in Munich since 2017.