Johann Jungwirth is visibly frustrated. In Hanover to present the latest iteration of the SElf-DRIving Car, or Sedric, Volkswagen Group's chief digital officer knows the industry is locked in a battle with tech companies for leadership in autonomous driving. The former Apple engineer fears European regulations are hampering efforts to bring to market the battery-powered concept, which management has already decided will move into series production.
"My goal is to be in the first U.S. cities with driverless cars in 2021," Jungwirth said. After that comes a planned rollout in China, Singapore and Middle Eastern cities such as Dubai. "And then comes Europe. We would love to [come earlier] since it’s our home market, but the legislation just isn’t there."
Every year 1.25 million people die and as many as 50 million are injured in road traffic accidents worldwide, according to United Nations statistics. Every year children, the elderly or the physically challenged have little or no access to individual mobility. And every year half a million metric tons of CO2 emissions in Germany alone could be saved by eliminating the endless search for a parking space, which studies show account for up to 30 percent of inner city traffic.
And every year hundreds of thousands of tons of carbon dioxide are emitted into the atmosphere from constant traffic jams and endless searches for parking places. VW’s Sedric and others like it could change that. Vehicles legally permitted to operate without any driver behind the wheel would revolutionize transport.
The friendly looking Sedric, built off the same MEB electric architecture as VW’s I.D. Neo, can comfortably seat four despite a wheelbase that is virtually identical to the brand’s Up minicar. This is possible because engineers removed the cockpit, steering wheel and pedals, resulting in a so-called Level 5 fully autonomous vehicle.