Uber has been getting its self-driving tests back on track, and General Motors' (GM) - Get Report Cruise unit is reportedly set to launch a robo-taxi service in 2019. Mercedes-Benz and Bosch are planning to launch a service in the Bay Area in a few years, with plans to use Nvidia (NVDA) - Get Report to power it.
So where does that leave others in the mix?
Audi, for one, does not plan to miss out on the opportunity. The automaker, which is one of many brands under the Volkswagen (VLKAY) umbrella, is pouring billions into its autonomous efforts. Specifically, it plans to spend almost $16 billion on electric, mobility and autonomous solutions between now and 2023.
In that span, it plans to launch an autonomous driving service by 2021.
Much of those funds will be going into its Autonomous Intelligent Driving (AID) unit, a subsidiary of Audi. Launched less than two years ago, AID is striving to build a level 4 autonomous car, meaning the vehicle can completely drive itself with specified areas. While it only has 12 vehicles out for testing on public roads, do not think of Audi as being trapped in the beginning stages.
While many are optimistic on Waymo, Tesla (TSLA) - Get Report (via its over-the-air updates for Autopilot) and General Motors/Cruise, Audi and AID are making serious strides. For instance, the Audi A8 sedan is considered the most advanced autonomous driving vehicle for sale to consumers, with a level 3 rating.
So to think Audi is behind the ball is incorrect. Instead of gaining ground in the autonomous driving world via acquisitions -- like GM with Cruise and Ford (F) - Get Report with Argo -- Audi has built AID from the ground up. That's not to say GM or Ford were wrong to pursue a different strategy, only that Audi is opting for a different one. It's hard to argue with GM scooping up Cruise for a reported $1 billion, only to see its valuation balloon to more than $14.5 billion a few years later after investments from SoftBank (SFTBY) and Honda (HMC) - Get Report .
Once Audi is able to build a level 4 capable vehicle, the first goal is to launch an autonomous driving taxi service. After that, Alexandre Haag, the chief technology officer for AID, says the goal is to go after everything. He told The Verge, "in the long term [we want to] provide the whole group with a self-driving stack for ownership vehicles, trucks, buses, food deliveries... everything in the long term."
It helps being a part of the Volkswagen team. Audi is just one branch in the tree, with Bugatti, Bentley, Porsche, Volkswagen (obviously), Lamborghini and a few others also involved. This can allow the company to have some additional flexibility and lean on other units within the brand. As such, AID will play an important role for Volkswagen's autonomous driving development.
In other words, look for Audi to play a role in the autonomous driving movement and perhaps sooner than expected.
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This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author had no positions in the stocks mentioned.