Like parallel parking, backing up a trailer requires a fair amount of skill, but it isn’t the most exciting of driving maneuvers. Or is it?
Volkswagen’s Norwegian arm recently released an ad demonstrating its new Trailer Assist feature, and that bit of technology seems to work pretty well. A Passat wagon reverses at fairly high speeds with a trailer attached, weaving its way through a parking garage, around a roundabout, and even passing other cars. Now that’s impressive.
It’s also not quite what it seems to be. Although VW really does have a Trailer Assist feature, that’s not how these movie-level stunts were accomplished. Showing incredible dedication to a good joke, the people responsible for this ad cut apart a small car, and built a trailer around it (see video below). The trailer had its own steering and even a 1.4-liter engine. It was leading the car, not being pushed by it.
The trailer also had its own driver, who communicated with the driver of the Passat to coordinate maneuvers. In that sense, the rig was almost like a better-executed version of James May’s double-ended “Alfaab” limousine from Top Gear, with drive wheels and steering at both ends. The trailer’s sides were plexiglass, so the driver could see out, and were covered with one-way film, so that nothing appeared out of the ordinary to bystanders.
In reality, Volkswagen’s Trailer Assist takes over steering duties to help reverse a trailer into a parking space. The driver shifts into reverse, hits the “Park Assist” button, and sets the desired angle using the mirror-adjustment buttons. The car then takes care of the steering, while the driver modulates the throttle and brakes.
In the U.S., Ford offers a similar system called Pro Trailer Backup Assist on the F-150 pickup truck. Both systems leverage technology that’s been available in various park-assist systems, and show how automation is extending to many different areas of driving.