Tesla is already fully aware.
Behind the scenes, there's an unofficial battle taking place among major automakers in several key areas, among them electrification and battery technologies. There is, however, another core R&D effort that's sometimes overlooked because the development rate is slower. Autonomous vehicle tech is the next major development heading our way and while fully self-driving vehicles aren't ready just yet, automakers like Volkswagen and Tesla are racing against each other to have the tech first.
Automotive News Europe reports that VW Group CEO Herbert Diess expects autonomous vehicles to hit the road between 2025 and 2030. Previously, industry watchers predicted fully self-driving vehicles were still several years away but Diess certainly has the inside knowledge others do not. "It is foreseeable that the systems will soon be able to master even the complex situations of autonomous driving," he said.
Level 2 self-driving vehicles are already on sale but they merely have advanced driver assist systems. Tesla's Autopilot, for example, is classified as Level 2. The jump to Level 3 is quite significant because this technology requires environmental detection capabilities where the system can make informed decisions like passing a slow-moving vehicle. However, they still have a human override function.
Two years ago, the latest Audi A8 debuted with Level 3 capability but it's still classified as Level 2 in the US because the regulatory approval process is state-by-state, not federal. For now, these A8s are being delivered without Level 3 essential hardware and software.
The main difference between Levels 3 and 4 is that Level 4 can intervene if something goes wrong or there's a system failure. Little human interaction is required most of the time. Level 5 is full automation, and this is apparently what Diess is referring to.
VW has already committed to spending $86 billion on electrification and autonomous technologies, which includes the new Car.Software unit. It's building a proprietary software stack that will be used in Audi's Project Artemis whose specified mission is to develop a self-driving electric vehicle by 2024. Diess and his team know Tesla has the same goals and it's now a race to get there first.