Currently reading: Volkswagen Group targets self-driving cars on public roads by 2021
Firm warns European countries they risk falling behind if they don't push forward new rules for autonomous machines

The Volkswagen Group will have fully autonomous vehicles running on public roads by 2021 according to the firm’s digital boss.

The prediction is several years ahead of where most experts predicted public testing of fully autonomous vehicles to begin, but chief digital officer Johann Jungwirth said it was likely to be possible because the technology was almost ready and authorities in the US, Middle East and China are starting to push legislation through to allow it.

“The United States has indicated this month that it wants nationwide autonomous testing to begin, and we expect the legislation to pass sometime next year,” said Jungwirth, speaking at a VW Group event ahead of the Frankfurt motor show. “We should be ready with Level 5 vehicles by the end of 2021.

“I imagine testing will begin in two to five different cities at first, but the aim will be that the cars on test will run in pretty much all types of everyday conditions, from door to door wherever the passengers want them. The only shortcomings will be in scenarios like a snow blizzard, where the sensors won’t work.

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“If that happens, then the car will simply stop and a car and driver will be alerted to pick up the passengers. In that respect it will be no different to having a mechanical problem or perhaps a puncture today.”

Jungwirth also warned that Europe risked being left behind as a centre of excellence for autonomous vehicle testing if it continued to impose tougher legislation. “Already there are countries around the world moving ahead - Europe must act to keep up,” he said.

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The first fully autonomous cars will be operated by the Volkswagen Group, pointing to the fact that the firm believes that it may have to operate fleets in future, hiring and short-term leasing cars to customers rather than long-term leasing or selling them. It is not clear if the first vehicles will be based on the Sedric concept or a new vehicle, possibly made by VW’s new mobility brand Moia.

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