Volkswagen Group's surprise announcement that it will team with Bosch to develop self-driving software can be seen as something of a strategic retreat.
After launching its own software unit, Cariad, just 18 months ago, VW appears to be admitting that it needs the expertise of partners to produce the incredibly complicated software stacks needed for advanced driving assistance and, eventually, full self-driving cars.
"We are acquiring the IP and capabilities to design our own software," VW CEO Herbert Diess wrote on LinkedIn on Tuesday, calling it an "important milestone."
Cariad was originally launched as an agile, stand-alone unit, but Diess himself said last year that VW was "always open" to discussions about partnering on software and other technology.
Expertise from Bosch, the world's largest automotive supplier, will help VW close what even it acknowledges is a gap to its main competitors, including Tesla.
An announcement in December by Mercedes-Benz that it had received approval for SAE Level 3 – meaning true hands-free driving on certain roads – only served to emphasize that VW's much-promoted embedded Level 3 function on the Audi A8 never received approval to be deployed.
And the Audi-led Artemis project, which aimed to bring to market by 2024 a fully digital passenger car capable of highly automated driving, has also stalled. That date has been pushed back to 2025, and a further blow came earlier this month when Porsche bought itself out of the project, saying it did not need the technology.
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Stellantis, which just announced it will spend $23 billion on software, plans to introduce Level 3 self-driving in 2024, working in partnership with BMW to develop the technology. BMW, for its part, will roll out its own Level 3 autonomy technology starting this year with the next-generation 7 Series sedan.
"This partnership will significantly help us to catch back up" in developing ADAS/AD software, Cariad boss Dirk Hilgenberg told journalists on a call Tuesday, citing Tesla. "That's why it's being set up."
"Speed is of the essence, because Tesla has many vehicles on the road broadcasting data every day," he added. Hilgenberg and Mathias Pillin, president of Bosch Cross-Domain Computing Solutions, plan to take advantage of VW's huge scale to create their own fleet of data-generating cars.
The partnership has relatively modest ambitions. Rather than aiming for SAE Level 5 – full self-driving in all conditions – or even Level 4, Bosch and VW are focusing on Level 2 plus and Level 3, meaning the driver will still sit behind the steering wheel with varying levels of involvement.
The main goal, VW says, is to ensure that every car in its vast portfolio -- "from the Polo to Bugatti," Hilgenberg said – will have access to ADAS features as the automaker moves to electric-focused platforms such as MEB (for smaller cars) and PPE (for performance).
"We want to make partially and highly automated driving suitable for volume production and available to a broad customer base," Hilgenberg said. "In other words, we want to make it available to everyone, and we truly mean everyone, not just premium vehicles, but true volume production cars for private mobility."
Despite that, VW also hopes it will get Artemis back on track. "What we announced with Artemis is we'll start with Level 3 and be Level 4 ready, and we'll stick with that. This partnership will support that," Hilgenberg said.
Still, Hilgenberg and Pillin noted that contractually, the venture is only obligated to create solutions up to Level 3 functionality, leaving open the questions of if and when Level 4 would be achieved. "Both parties have the ambition for Level 4, and we will evaluate that as we go along," Hilgenberg said.
Bosch to get marketing rights
Bosch will bring to the partnership its AOS operating system that serves as middleware, which can be seen as the heart of the system for automated driving. But that will come at a cost to VW: Bosch will, after a certain point, have the right to offer solutions developed by the project to other customers. That could make Bosch the winner in the deal.
No financial terms were discussed, but VW expects that Cariad software will be in 60 percent of group vehicles by 2025, up from 10 percent in 2020.
Nonetheless, both VW and Bosch took pains to say that the collaboration will bring mutual benefits.
Pillin said VW would help make Level 3 automation suitable for the mass market, not just premium cars. Tesla's latest Full Self-Driving package is a $12,000 option.
"This requires a very large operational design domain (ODD)," he said. "I am confident with this partnership, this fleet, and the data we collect, we will be able to make a difference on the market."
Hilgenberg added the partnership would serve to "safeguard the future" of both companies. "It's kind of a special sail on the boat to accelerate the Cariad ship," he said.
Qualche dettaglio in più sull’alleanza tra Bosch e Vw. Nonostante le roboanti dichiarazioni e gli enormi investimenti fatti da Vw (ben più alti di Mercedes e Bmw) Diess & company sono dovuti correre a Stoccarda per chiedere aiuto. Dal punto di vista strategico è auspicabile che i costruttori mantengano il controllo delle tecnologie per la guida autonoma ma per me non c’è alcun dubbio che colossi come Google ed Apple possano fare ben di meglio.
Imho è inevitabile che tutti i costruttori cerchino alleanze, da soli non ce la possono fare.