VW’s Wolfsburg division, the group’s headquarters in Germany, is currently conducting market research on Thasos as part of a pilot autonomous driving project on a Greek island. This is the latest development of efforts that have been intensified since the beginning of autumn with a series of contacts on both sides.
Volkswagen selects the Greek island of Thassos to test autonomous driving cars of the future. The VW concern, the world’s largest automaker, is developing a pilot autonomous driving program in Thassos. The auto industry leadership and the Greek government are in the final stages of contract negotiations. Signatures are expected to be delivered by the end of March.
The VW division of Wolfsburg, the group’s headquarters in Germany, is currently conducting market research on Thassos as part of a pilot project on autonomous driving on a Greek island. This is the latest development of efforts that have been intensified since the beginning of autumn with a series of contacts on both sides.
The original idea was to revitalize MAN and therefore VW in Greece, which was also discussed with the previous government. “Our goal was to create new jobs in Greece with German investments,” says Athanasius Krikis. However, there were indecisive moments that led to delays. The new government in Athens has brought the issue to the fore after the summer elections, along with the Deputy Foreign Minister for Economic Diplomacy Kostas Frankoyannis.
The first meeting took place in September 2019 in Munich, Karnfeld, at the headquarters of MAN, which is part of the VW group. Mr. Frankoyannis met with Mr. Karsten Indra, MAN production manager and employee in the company’s bureau, Athanasius Stimoniaris, chairman of working committees and member of the supervisory board of the VW group, and Athanasius Krikis, representative of MAN employees.
The German automaker is currently paying for delays in the movement of electric vehicles but does not want to miss out on an autonomous driving train. However, the main problem is strict European standards for road safety and accident liability.
According to the current European legislation, testing is possible only in real conditions up to level “4”. For level 5 – driving without the presence of the driver in the vehicle – MAN is forced to carry out tests on the runways of old German airports, which do not meet the requirements for driving in real conditions. Level 5 tests are only available in certain US states, such as California.
The border areas of Greece can provide an opportunity to bypass European standards. The Greek proposal is to make Thassos a “smart island” that combines the advantages of Kavala port and airport infrastructure.
Further contacts followed, both in Germany and Athens, leading to a meeting between Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and VW Group CEO Herbert Diaz, head of the VW delegation to the Cabinet of Ministers on 20 December.
“If we start such a pilot program in Greece and open a window, then other companies will also catch up, since no other European country has such an opportunity,” says Mr. Krikis.
Especially MAN is expanding its investment activities in Greece. Thessaloniki could become the center of the company’s operations in the Balkans, Krikis said, citing other examples such as Portugal, where the company launched a 30-seat pilot program that currently employs about 500 people.
MAN and VW are focusing on research and technology for the future with a budget of 45 billion euros in the coming years, some of which may go to Greece. For the autonomous pilot program in Thassos, the Greek state will provide infrastructure in road networks, telecommunications and energy. In return, the country will receive large investments in advanced technologies that will create many jobs and at the same time increase the value of the investment profile of the region and country.