Wednesday 7 December 2016

Audi chief reveals 'driverless cars' will completely change our motoring futures

Audi chief tells Motors how 'driverless cars' will completely change our motoring futures

Published 04/11/2015 | 02:30

The Audi Tron Concept
The Audi Tron Concept
Sven Schuwirth
Tron interior

We are entering the biggest revolution in the era of motoring - thanks to 'driverless cars'.

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That's the claim made by a senior Audi executive in an interview with Independent Motors, on the fringes of the Dublin Web Summit.

Sven Schuwirth has been Head of Brand and Sales Development at Audi since 2009.

His brief includes market and trend research and strategy. So he is a man with his finger on the pulse of change. And he is adamant that autonomous driving "is the biggest game changer" in the automobile's history.

"Autonomous driving changes the entire system of a car.

"It is on a much higher level," he says, pointing to the simple fact that up to now "we always had a steering wheel in our hands".

With autonomous driving it will be different. There will be a button to press when we want to take control, but largely we'll be otherwise occupied.

That's why he is convinced we are witnessing the motoring revolution of all revolutions.

I was tempted to say his group is going through one on a different level, but as he declined to make any comment on the VW scandal, there wasn't much point.

He believes autonomous driving "eats electric mobility (electric cars) for breakfast". And "if we do it right it will be the biggest change".

Already automakers are "quite advanced" - just one of several examples being an Audi driving itself at 200kmh around the Barcelona racetrack.

Major hurdles remain, not least the legal maze. But progress is being made. Sven doesn't think the conditions for autonomous driving would involve much extra by way of infrastructure on highways or secondary roads, but he concedes cities pose a problem. Some governments are willing to invest in infrastructure; some are not.

The other big step, he says, is gaining the trust of customers. Already carmakers have systems that permit 'no hands' for 10 seconds. "So it is a matter of step-by-step to convince the customers who need to trust the machine."

But why do we need 'driverless cars'?

Here's his reasoning. On average we spend 60/90 mins a day at the wheel. "It is a waste of time. Just imagine, if you had that time to do whatever you want." As well as that there would be fewer accidents - 90pc are caused by human error, he points out. But he insists there will always have to be that 'Me' button to let you have fun with the car, to feel its acceleration. "The cars will have to have a lot of emotion inside."

Google and Apple are steadily advancing plans for their own 'driverless' cars. "I personally invite them as new competitors. They are coming from the outside, from digital ecosystems, but they have no experience in manufacturing or developing cars. A car is not a mobile phone; it is a huge system full of complexity."

And what about cost? "Definitely the customer is not prepared to pay more money. But like everything in innovation at the start it is high cost. If something is well accepted by the customer . . . cost will come down."

And just how close are we now to the future he paints?

"At the end of 2016 with the new A8 you will see the first step of full autonomous driving on certain road conditions."

Within 10/15 years virtually all autonomous cars will be electric high performers with AWD and fully connected.

Will that be the end of the internal combustion engine? "No, but its share will definitely go down though not so so fast as the public might think. (There will) always be opportunities, such as combining with electricity in mild hybrids as well as plug-ins."

Then he says: "Wait until 2018 and you will see the best electric car ever on the planet." He's talking about Audi's e-tron concept capable of covering 500km on one charge in real-world conditions.

To some people a lot of this may sound fanciful.

The only thing is - like the Web Summit - it is happening before our eyes. Roll on the revolution.

Top left: Audi's Sven Schuwirth. Above, and inset, the electric Audi e-tron concept, which we can expect to see by 2018.

Audi claims it will be capable of driving 500km on a single charge.

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