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.”