11 May 2020
The new Audi A8 will not feature level 3 autonomy due to issues surrounding legal structures and model life cycles, Audi has confirmed with Autovista Group.
The introduction of the ‘eyes-off’ technology known as Traffic Jam Pilot (TJP) was first announced in 2017. Audi made the move after Germany passed laws allowing drivers to cede full control of their car to an autonomous system.
Responding to questions from Autovista Group, the company explained in a statement that no ‘legal framework’ for level 3 automated driving currently exists. ‘Consistently, it is not possible to homologate such function anywhere in the world in a series-production car,’ the carmaker said.
The interplay between findings from ongoing testing and legislative requirements for defining conditional automotive driving have apparently made it challenging to plan the introduction of level 3 autonomy.
The statement pointed to Audi's ongoing need to monitor different economic aspects including development costs. The carmaker said it was an ‘important part of the truth, which the industry is now facing: development of automated driving is extremely complex and cost-intensive.’
The remaining life of the targeted A8 model, combined with the forecast installation rate, also played a part in the decision, alongside expected market demand in each country.
‘We will not see the Traffic Jam Pilot on the road with its originally planned level 3 series function in the current model generation of the Audi A8 because our luxury sedan has already gone through a substantial part of its model life cycle,’ the manufacturer said.
Attitude of responsibility
While Audi expressed a continuing belief in autonomous technology, it said that this is not the right moment to deliver this function to its customers, citing an ‘attitude of responsibility’.
The A8 would have been Audi’s first production car to feature ‘eyes-off’ technology. The development marked the carmaker as the first to develop this type of function for a series introduction. Audi claimed that its A8 research vehicles demonstrated the feasibility of autonomous technology in Germany's Ruhr region in 2017. ‘Up to now there is no equivalent function in series production on the market from any other OEM,' it said.
The initial TJP system would have had restricted functionality, only capable of operating at speeds of up to 60kph on highways with directionally divided traffic flows. This would have allowed drivers to go ‘eyes-off’ during periods of stop-start traffic, letting them read, watch TV or otherwise disengage from driving.
Moving forward, level 3 development looks to take place within the Car.Software organisation, a new division of Volkswagen Group (VW). Former Audi management looks set to influence developments there, with Thomas Müller managing the automated driving area and Klaus Büttner overseeing the intelligent body and cockpit area. ‘Together with the specialists coming from Audi, Volkswagen and Porsche, this ensures that the current expertise in this cross-brand organisation is available for the greatest possible benefit to everyone in the Volkswagen Group,’ Audi said.
It remains to be seen how much investment expensive projects like these will receive as the automotive industry reels in the wake of COVID-19 and its economic impact. Manufacturers are having to count every penny as they try to maintain liquidity. This means research and development budgets will be under intense scrutiny, with funds being driven to the most necessary projects, and steered away from those that are simply not cost-effective post-COVID-19.