Audi pushes toward fully autonomous cars

Audi plans to start offering advanced self-driving features in its cars by the end of next year. The company’s technology boss, Ulrich Hackenberg, meanwhile, expects fully autonomous vehicles to be ready for serial production within 10 years.

Hackenberg discussed development of self-driving vehicles and the potential effects of falling oil prices with Automotive News Europe Editor Luca Ciferri last month on the sidelines of the International CES in Las Vegas.

Q: An Audi A7 Sportback recently drove itself almost 560 miles from Palo Alto, Calif., to Las Vegas. What message does that send about the potential mass production of autonomous vehicles?

A: It depends on your definition of autonomous driving. A vehicle capable of driving itself with no need for any interaction from the driver, even in critical situations, is probably 10 years away. If you mean what we call “piloted driving,” which is a car that can drive itself but still calls on the driver to intervene in critical situations, the technology is already here.

We used standard-definition maps for the drive from Palo Alto to Las Vegas, but we used high-definition digital maps to have our autonomously driven RS7 top 240 kph [149 mph] on the Hockenheim race circuit last October.

What is the biggest hurdle slowing the launch of fully autonomous vehicles?

By far it’s legislation. Nowhere in the world are there laws that permit cars to autonomously drive on public roads. Even in California and Nevada, where Audi was among the first automakers to get a permit to test autonomous driving, the law requires that a test driver always is at the wheel, ready to intervene if needed.

What redundancies are required to make sure self-driving cars are safe?

A number of redundancies are required. Some systems are duplicated and others need three units, for example, when two sensors provide conflicting information. In piloted driving, the driver is required to make a decision that overcomes the sensor discrepancy. In fully autonomous driving, the third redundant system must determine what to do.

What is Audi’s plan for launching autonomous driving?

By the end of next year, piloted driving will be available on the next-generation A8. [It will drive the car] at speeds up to 60 kph [37 mph] on major roadways. From there, we will progressively expand the system’s range of usability, which is mainly a software matter.

How much do falling oil prices affect customers’ car-buying decisions?

If differs. In the U.S. there is direct correlation between gasoline prices and sales of our clean diesels. If gasoline prices go up, our diesel sales go up and vice versa.

Audi offers an array of low-emission vehicles that includes gasoline turbos, clean diesels, plug-in hybrids and soon a full-electric R8. From an engineer’s perspective, which offers the best solution?

From a pure engineering standpoint, the best solution is a plug-in diesel hybrid if you’re talking about the ideal balance between high performance, low fuel consumption and long range. This is because you couple the advantages of the diesel with those of a plug-in hybrid powertrain.

And commercially?

Considering the cost of a plug-in diesel powertrain, the winning solution for the marketplace would be a plug-in gasoline hybrid. Future emissions standards are significantly increasing the cost of compliance for diesels, which in turn increases the burden on a plug-in diesel compared with a plug-in gasoline.

The new Q7 will be Audi’s first plug-in diesel hybrid. Will it debut this year?

Not this year, but in the near future, and it won’t be our only plug-in diesel. We will have more of them, also on smaller models.


Automotive News, February 2, 2015

Audi CEO Confirms Q8 SUV, Will Launch By 2020

A new Audi Q7 was long overdue, having been on the market since late 2005. Ingolstadt obliged and premiered the all-new, second-generation model at the recent Detroit Auto Show.

Its main feature is that it has shed more than 700 pounds (325 kg) compared to its predecessor thanks to a new chassis and the extensive use of light materials throughout.

Audi CEO Rupert Stadler, however, went on the record saying that the German manufacturer is “working heavily” on an even bigger SUV, dubbed Q8, that will be aimed mainly at markets where such vehicles are in high demand, like the US, China and the Middle East.

Stadler told Bloomberg during an interview that a bigger SUV, which will sit at the top of the range above the Q7, “would strengthen the brand. I’m convinced we need the car by 2020.”

The US is of special interest to Audi, as it trails market leader BMW and second-place Mercedes- Benz by selling half as much models as they do. In the near future, Stadler forecast that high-end vehicles will increase their market share, from today’s 10 percent to 13 percent.

He also sees no reason why, by strengthening the brand’s portfolio, they can’t outsell their rivals: “We did it in China, we did it in Europe. Why shouldn’t it happen in the US at some point?”

Nevertheless, Audi’s range-topping SUV will have to face strong competition in the luxury SUV niche. Bentley, which like Audi belongs to the VW Group, will launch the Bentayga, Jaguar the F-Pace, Maserati the Levante and BMW the X7, all of which are expected to beat the Q8 to the showrooms.