• 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.   by      
  • Audi launches Rs 2.97 crore R8 LMX laser headlamp to hit BMW i8 hard

    NEW DELHI: German luxury car maker Audi on Thursday launched its limited edition sports car Audi R8 LMX priced at Rs. 2.97 crore (ex-showroom Delhi). Claiming that Audi R8 LMX is the first production car with laser high beam lighting in India, the company said. Audi2 Highlighting the significance of the technology, the company said the laser spot offershigher range of visibility enhancing the safety aspect. The lights are activated at a speed of 60 kmph and above. The laser light spots one laser module per headlight generates a cone of light with twice the range of the all-LED headlight. The car can accelerate from 0 to 100 km/hr in 3.4 seconds and reach a top speed of 320 km/hr. Commenting on the launch, Audi India Head Joe King said, “Audi has always been at the forefront in lighting technologies. Audi was the first luxury car manufacturer to bring LED headlights in India…the introduction of the laser headlight to the Audi R8 LMX underscores our leading position in lighting technology.” Audi_R8_IMG The combination of LED and laser high beam lighting was used for the first time on the new Audi R18 e-tron quattro at the 24 Hours of Le Mans race last year. “Audi is thus continuing its tradition of using racing to test new technologies destined for production. The limited-edition Audi R8 LMX is the first production car in India to come equipped with laser high beam lighting, a particularly brilliant innovation integrated in a sports car,” Mr. King added.
  • VW Golf wins Car of the Year, topping Ford Mustang

    DETROIT — Volkswagen’s Golf snagged the North American Car of the Year on Monday, arguably the most prestigious award among the many in the auto world, in what was perceived as a surprise win over Ford’s completely redone Mustang. The Golf had already won a number of honors this year, but Ford had made quite a splash with the improvements that it made in the Mustang. Even VW officials were caught by surprise. “Flabbergasted” is how Michael Horn, CEO of Volkswagen of American, says he reacted when he heard of his victory. He said at the North American International Auto Show going on here that he certainly believed that Golf deserved the award, but noted its stiff competition, which also included a third finalist, Hyundai’s Genesis luxury sedan. He says Golf is noteworthy not only because of the other awards it has won, but because of its impressive design and craftsmanship. “I thought it would be too good to be true,” Horn says. And the win is a bit personal: He says he grew up with the Golf. Golf garnered the most votes from a panel of 57 jurors representing dozens of print, online and broadcast operations. The Hyundai Genesis premium sedan and Ford’s overhauled 2015 Mustang were the other finalists. Though Golf’s won a number of other prizes since it went on sale earlier this year, it still was a bit of a surprise, because there was wide expectation the nod would go to Ford’s completely re-done 2015 Mustang. The sentiment was expressed not just by auto writers. The Golf, including the GTI and its various versions, was Motor Trend’s Car of the Year. AutoTrader asked its readers who they favored to win. The result was a Ford sweep by a landslide: 70% said Ford Mustang for car; 56% said Ford F-150. American classics, many noted. A companion award is given to the highest-ranking truck of the year — F-150 this year. AWARD: Aluminum Ford F-150 wins Truck of the Year Of 570 possible points, Golf got 256, Mustang got 204 and Genesis, 110. Finalists aren’t compared to one another, but to others in their segment. The award is meant to “honor new benchmarks in their automotive segments in areas ranging from design and safety to innovation and value for the dollar.” Last year’s winner was the Chevrolet Corvette. VW put the new Golf on sale overseas about a year and a half before it came to the North American market. VW insisted on finishing a new production facility in Mexico to build Golf, rather than sending over German-made cars, before putting the North American version on sale. “The Volkswagen Golf gains fuel efficiency, safety and functionality while simultaneously costing less than the car it replaces….If the 2015 Golf signifies where VW is headed the German automaker’s future looks bright indeed,” says Karl Brauer, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book, also a NACTOY juror. “Do not let (Golf’s) plain-vanilla look fool you. This is ‘the car’ in every aspect,” said NACTOY juror Denis Duquet of Le Guide de l’auto. Volkswagen is thrilled to start 2015 with the Golf and Golf GTI taking home the incredible North American Car of the Year title,” said Michael Horn, CEO, Volkswagen Group of America. The two trophies — jointly, the North American Car and Truck of the Year, or NACTOY — are presented annually at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, though they are not affiliated with, or sponsored by, the show. It was VW’s second NACTOY win. The New Beetle won in 1999. The Golf was a finalist in 2010 but lost to the Ford Fusion Hybrid. Automakers delight in winning the NACTOY trophy because they believe vehicle shoppers are more swayed by it than by awards given by a single publication or company. In NACTOY’s 22 years, domestic automakers have won the car category 12 times and foreign automakers have won 10 times. Among the foreign brands, Japanese automakers have three wins. European automakers have four wins. Korean automaker Hyundai has two wins. Woodyard reported from Detroit and Healey reported from Arlington, Va.
  • VW Group Q3 profit jumps on record Audi, Porsche sales

    Volkswagen Group posted higher-than-expected operating profit in the third quarter, boosted by strong demand for Audi and Porsche models in Europe and China. Earnings before interest and taxes rose 16 percent to 3.23 billion euros ($4.1 billion) at Europe’s largest automotive group, VW said on Thursday, beating analyst estimates. Buoyed by a recovery in core European markets, the automaker stuck to its guidance for a 2014 operating profit margin between 5.5 percent and 6.5 percent, after 5.9 percent last year. It also confirmed a forecast for revenue within a range of plus or minus 3 percent of last year’s record 197 billion euros. Quarterly revenues rose 4.1 percent to 48.9 billion euros, VW said. “We have turned in a solid performance in the year to date,” VW Group CEO Martin Winterkorn said in the statement. “However, we must continue to focus on laying the foundations now that will enable us to respond” to challenges in the auto industry. After years of rapid sales gains to pursue its goal of surpassing Toyota Motor Corp. as the world’s biggest carmaker, Volkswagen has shifted focus to protect profit amid surging spending to meet stricter emission rules and develop new technology. At the VW car brand, the group’s biggest unit, Winterkorn plans to reduce costs and boost productivity to improve earnings by 5 billion euros by 2018. Record sales VW Group’s third-quarter vehicle sales were up 4.1 percent, at a record 2.43 million autos, with volume growth in China and Europe offsetting declines in the Americas, keeping VW on course to hit a 10 million car-sales target this year, four years ahead of schedule. Quarterly deliveries of Audi and Porsche models, which account for about two-thirds of VW Group earnings before interest and tax (EBIT), were up 7.2 percent and 25 percent respectively to 429,250 and 47,800 cars. So far this year, Audi has sold 1.3 million vehicles worldwide, a jump of 10 percent, while Porsche sales have risen 13 percent to 135,600. Audi, the world’s second-largest luxury carmaker, has been pushing to narrow the sales gap to BMW Group’s namesake marque on the back of new cars such as the A3 compact sedan. Audi posted a 6 percent third-quarter increase in operating profit to 1.16 billion euros. Audi’s nine-month operating profit was up slightly to 3.8 billion euros from 3.7 billion euros during the same period last year. The value-focused Skoda brand posted a 77 percent surge in third-quarter operating profit to 226 million euros, lifted by demand for the Rapid sedan and wagon. The company said nine-month operating profit jumped 76 percent to 651 million euros, while revenue grew by 19 percent to 8.8 billion euros in the period. Skoda’s vehicles sales rose by 13 percent to 774,100 cars in the first nine months. But operating profit at the core passenger-car brand, VW’s biggest unit by sales and revenue, has tumbled as the mass-market division grapples with stagnant sales, high fixed costs and spending on technology such as VW’s MQB modular production platform.