This first A8 testing mule is hidden under modified bodywork from the current car
Among the planned powertrain options is a plug-in hybrid model to rival the Mercedes-Benz S500 hybrid
The A8 will be underpinned by the Volkswagen Group's MLB platform
The new Audi A8 is due on sale in 2016
Among the rivals for the new Audi A8 will be BMW's new 7 Series
The dimensions of the new A8 should be largely the same as those of today's car
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
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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