New Audi flagship saloon has been delayed for a year as the company bids to equip it with autonomous technology

Audi’s first car capable of autonomous operation will be the next-generation Audi A8, which is not due before late 2017.

Insiders say the company has been stretched to the limit designing the new electronic architecture that will support “piloted driving”.

This is one of the reasons why the model has been delayed, Autocar understands.

Audi R&D boss Urlich Hackenberg revealed that the new A8 would introduce advanced assisted driving technology, including the ability to travel autonomously on motorways at speeds of up to 40mph.

Audi sources also said that the A8 would be a ‘technical masterpiece’ and was intended to out-point Mercedes’ hugely successful new-generation S-Class.

The A8 will make extensive use of ‘cloud computing’ for the ‘piloted driving’ option, constantly communicating with mainframe computers, uploading information about road conditions and downloading previously uploaded data about road and traffic conditions.

Hackenberg revealed that the next A8 would make extensive use of sensors, giving 360-degree coverage. These will include long-range radar, laser scanners and monovideo cameras facing forward, medium range radar facing rearwards and ultra sonic sensors at each side.

These sensors will help build up a massive database of information which will be stored in the mainframe computers, generating ‘teraflops of data’ and available to be downloaded by other VW group cars while they are driving. Audi argues that this will allow future cars to have a degree of ‘artificial intelligence’.

Hackenberg also said the central processing unit for autonomous operation would be very expensive at low volumes, but he expected mass production would lower the price enough for it to be fitted to the next-generation MQB platform.

This suggests that the Mk8 Volkswagen Golf and the wider Golf-related family, due at the end of the decade, could be capable of autonomous driving. Such a move would mark a revolution in mainstream motoring.

Audi chairman Rupert Stadler told Autocar that he believed there was still considerable room for premium brand expansion around the world. He said premium sales account for around “12-13-14%” of the European and Chinese markets, leaving the way open for further growth. He said he could also see room for sales expansion in South America.

Stadler also ruled out a sub-brand similar to BMW’s i models, emphasising that Audi’s alternative-fuel vehicles would form part of its mainstream model line-up.

He also ruled out allowing Audis to be used for car-sharing schemes, because those vehicles ‘”soon become dirty and battered and that is not a premium experience for a driver”.

On the issue of motor sport, Audi’s board members said they would “not comment on rumours” that the brand would eventually enter Formula 1, while Hackenberg said Audi was following Formula E "with great interest”.

“At the moment, the type of components used for the cars is quite restricted, but we think that will change," he said. "So when the [Formula E] technology becomes more liberated, we will definitely look [at the series] in more detail.”

New look for next Audi A8

The next-generation Audi A8 will be the first model to get the firm’s all-new look previewed on the Los Angeles motor show Prologue concept when it launches in 2017.

Audi technical chief Ulrich Hackenberg confirmed the news to Autocar at the 2014 LA motor show. He said the A8 would be the first car designed from scratch by new design chief Marc Lichte.

"I gave Marc his first job of designing the new A8, and the Prologue concept is a trailer for that," Hackenberg revealed. "This concept is the next step of Audi design. The new A8 will launch by the end of 2016.

"The next A6 and A7 will also have this look. In the A8, there will be a lot of features from the Prologue. The face and the interior in particular; I'm not a fan of concept cars that are too spectacular, so that's why you'll see so much of this design in the new cars."

Hackenberg said Audi was ready for a new design language. "I promised to take care of the design when I came to Audi," said Hackenberg. "We will be making the cars more different, yes. You'll see lots of differences in the new cars.

"Marc is tasked with doing something new, and you need courage and ability to do that. It's a very hard job to do, to regenerate design and take the next step and evolve. Lichte is ambitious and has the ability to do that."

Hackenberg said he and Lichte had arrived too late at Audi to influence the look of more imminent models such as the Q7 and A4, both of which are on sale next year. As such, it'll be the end of 2017 before the new Audi look hits the road. 

Early engineering mules for the next-generation Audi A8 have already hit the road. The 7 Series rival is likely to join the BMW in making its debut at the 2015 Frankfurt motor show in thinly veiled concept guise before going on sale in 2017.

Underpinning the new A8 will be the firm’s newly developed MLB platform, which is set to be used first on the upcoming Q7 SUV replacement.

The MLB platform is different from the Volkswagen Group’s revised MSB platform, which is being engineered by Porsche and will be used by the second-generation Panamera and third-generation Bentley Continental GT range. This means there will be two bespoke platforms for the VW Group’s full-size models.

The mule seen here uses the new platform under a current A8’s modified body. It shows that the tracks have been stretched, but otherwise the new A8’s dimensions should be close to those of the current car.

Petrol engines are set to include a new V6, a revised version of the existing V8 with cylinder shutdown technology and a reworked W12 with EU6 compliance. Added to this will be the bigger-selling four-cylinder, V6 and V8 models.

Audi is also planning a plug-in hybrid version to rival Mercedes’ S500 plug-in hybrid as part of its roll-out of the technology. Rumours of a pure electric e-tron version to take on the Telsa Model S using the technology from the latest version of the R8 e-tron also keep surfacing.

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Our Verdict

Audi A8
The third generation Audi A8 is the best yet - and by some margin

The Audi A8 is a highly capable and desirable luxury saloon that's very easy to live with, despite its flaws

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Comments
16

7 August 2014
Does anyone actually buy the A8, havent seen one for years, and there are no prizes for guessing what it will look like.

7 August 2014
Have you seen the new Audi ? How would you know ? P.S. I saw a new MG today....is this a record ?

7 August 2014
Audi begins to appeal. Well not quite as much as the S-Class or 7-Series. But usually great as a nearly new buy.

7 August 2014
I don't get the appeal- the current A8 and (I bet) the 2016 A8 will look the same as the 2002 A8. Why would anyone shell out 60-100k on a car who's design hasn't progressed in the past decade and a half. But then I don't really get the appeal of the granddaddy of lazy design- the Porsche 911 either.

7 August 2014
Audi are still seen as a poor mans Mercedes. There seriously need to sort out the ride, as the current one is dreadful. Also, until people see you in side profile, they will just think you are driving an A3 or A4. It has no real presence, and it is too mainstream to be the alternative choice like an Caddy or Infinity. Apparently it sells well in Switzerland and Austria, but even the Phaeton seems more desirable than this, especially if it is still a Bentley (or the other way round) underneath. The only other car this can underpin is the Lambo 4 door. It seems a complete waste of budget given that the rest of the range are all based on shared platforms between VW, Skoda, SEAT.

7 August 2014
marj wrote:
Also, until people see you in side profile, they will just think you are driving an A3 or A4.
This was something Ford got slated for in the 80's, when from the front you couldn't tell the difference between an Escort, a Sierra and a Granada, but apparently its now OK if you are a premium brand..

Maj

10 August 2014
It runs through all of them... Merc, Bimmer, Audi, Lexus and the list goes on. what about telling the difference between 3-Ser and 5-Ser? or C-Class and S-Class? Actually IMO it's confusing to tell from behind... Why on earth they bother creating so many different body shells? As in reality they looks very similar!

Maj

7 August 2014
If you knew what you were talking about or read the article properly you would know the MLB platform underpins all other longitudinally engined audis including the A4,5,6,7 and Q5,7. The only audis that share a platform with vw skoda etc are the small transversely engined A1,3 TT and Q3 as well as the current Q7 which also shares with vw and porsche. Also although I agree the s class is a better car I would take an A8 over a 7.

8 August 2014
John11 wrote:
If you knew what you were talking about or read the article properly you would know the MLB platform underpins all other longitudinally engined audis including the A4,5,6,7 and Q5,7. The only audis that share a platform with vw skoda etc are the small transversely engined A1,3 TT and Q3 as well as the current Q7 which also shares with vw and porsche. Also although I agree the s class is a better car I would take an A8 over a 7.
Ok, the basic platforms are different but engines, gearboxes and many suspension components are shared throughout the VAG group. That really was my point. They also need to sort out the rock hard ride of many of their vehicles. A recent airport transfer in an A8 felt like I had been strapped to a skateboard. It really isn't good enough for this class of car.

8 August 2014
marj wrote:
John11 wrote:
If you knew what you were talking about or read the article properly you would know the MLB platform underpins all other longitudinally engined audis including the A4,5,6,7 and Q5,7. The only audis that share a platform with vw skoda etc are the small transversely engined A1,3 TT and Q3 as well as the current Q7 which also shares with vw and porsche. Also although I agree the s class is a better car I would take an A8 over a 7.
Ok, the basic platforms are different but engines, gearboxes and many suspension components are shared throughout the VAG group. That really was my point. They also need to sort out the rock hard ride of many of their vehicles. A recent airport transfer in an A8 felt like I had been strapped to a skateboard. It really isn't good enough for this class of car.
You said it was a waste of development budget but the A8 shares the same MLB platform, gearboxes and engines that are also used by other audis eg a 3.0 TDI is the same engine whether it is in an A4,5,6,7 etc the only engine it does not share with other audi models is the w12 and that is just a non turbo version of Bentleys engine that vw also uses so I don't really see your point

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