When Volkswagen unveiled its self-driving 'Sedric' concept this past March, some people couldn't help but chuckle. It didn't have anything to do with the underlying concept, which was that Sedric would be 'the ideas platform for autonomous driving in the Volkswagen Group'. Rather, it was the physical appearance of the car. With a wide body, a vertically elongated windshield and hanging wheel wells covering the tires completely, it looked like nothing that is on the road today.
Author: Justin Tejada, The Connected Car
Jalopnik called it a 'space caterpillar'. The Verge said it looked like a 'pissed-off toaster'.
Playful barbs aside, most outlets still had to give credit to the Sedric concept and the ambition of its innovative design.
Now, thanks to Volkswagen Group's presentation at the International Motor Show in Frankfurt, we have a better idea of VW's plans for Sedric and its broader approach to autonomous vehicles. As reported by Automotive News, the Group has set 2021 as a target date for the launch of Level 5 autonomous electric vehicles of various kinds.
"Our team is already working on ideas for a whole Sedric family of fully autonomous vehicles for the city, for luxurious long-range mobility, through self-driving delivery vans and heavy commercial trucks," Volkswagen AG CEO Matthias Muller said in Frankfurt.
The company also announced plans to introduce autonomous ride-sharing services in two to five cities around the globe by 2021, via the mobility brands Moia and Gett with which Volkswagen is affiliated.
Back when it first introduced Sedric in March, the company described an innovative-sounding system by which customers will hail rides in the future.
"A single touch of the button guarantees mobility for everyone, at any time, and at any location," read the statement. "The control element is made of a button to press and a ring which indicates Sedric's arrival time with colored signals and vibration signal that guides a person with impaired vision to the car."
The latest information on Sedric also provided additional perspective on the vehicle's unusual design, which Volkswagen Head of Design Michael Mauer said is engineered to make passengers feel comfortable and safe as they are first introduced to AV technology.
"Powerful bodywork pillars, distinctive wheelhouses and short overhangs give Sedric an impressively robust appearance as the epitome of safety and trustworthiness," Mauer noted in a statement. "The headlamps provide a design feature and take on the function of eyes. They make visual contact with people in the immediate surroundings and interact with them."
If Volkswagen can deliver on its timeline, the company could have the first self-driving cars that consumers will ride in for purposeful transportation.
These intentions have clearly informed the company's approach to design and user experience. Both the ride-sharing and ride-hailing plans, as well as Sedric's incredibly safe-looking physical design, are meant to put customers at ease with early AV experiences.
Of course a car that looks safe is different from one that is safe, and Volkswagen has a number of hurdles to overcome in order to regain consumer trust after its emissions scandal. But if VW is successful in its autonomous efforts, it could not only erase some of the sins of the past, it could also make the company a leader for the future.