NICK GIBBS

Audi copies Silicon Valley risk-taking culture with self-driving A8

Stadler speaks to 2,000 media representatives and 'influencers' at the A8 unveil in Barcelona.
Nick Gibbs is UK Correspondent at Automotive News Europe.
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Audi CEO Rupert Stadler has been studying Silicon Valley’s risk-taking culture and with the brand’s new A8 self-driving flagship sedan, he is putting into practice what he has learned.

At the 2015 Frankfurt auto show, Stadler admiringly described the difference in business culture between companies in Silicon Valley and Europe. “In Europe everything is forbidden until it is allowed. In America everything is allowed until someone says, ‘It’s a little bit dangerous, so let’s regulate’,” he said.

With the latest A8, Audi has taken a risk by jumping ahead of legislation to create what is set to become the first production car capable of level 3 autonomous driving

The A8’s optional autonomous function allows the car to start, steer, brake and accelerate by itself in slow-moving traffic on freeways and highways, allowing the driver to do something else instead of drive the car such as watch the on-board TV, Audi says.

Germany has passed a law allowing the driver to hand control to the car in certain scenarios, but unless homologation of the technology is approved soon, customers who take delivery of the first new A8s later this year won’t be allowed to make use of the technology.

Audi didn’t have a polished answer as to how these early customers will activate the function enabling hands-free driving when it becomes legal, but I guess that’s what happens when you move faster than legislation.

This is a company now thinking more like Apple or Tesla than a traditional German firm.

Like Apple

Audi unveiled the A8 in Barcelona on July 11 during what it called a "summit." The event felt more like one of Apple’s Worldwide Developers’ Conferences than a traditional car launch.

Stadler’s speech to the 2,000 assembled media and ‘influencers’ sounded like a keynote address scripted for Apple CEO Tim Cook rather than the typically prosaic style used by car company bosses. He barely mentioned the A8 and its autonomous functions. Instead he mapped out a future where Audi would “simplify the lives of our customers” by allowing them to “take back control of [their] time.”

The unspoken message was that Audi should be now thought of in the same bracket as companies such as Apple or Google. Said Stadler: “When it comes to mobility, we strive to be one of the world’s leading technology companies.”

You can reach Nick Gibbs at ngibbs@crain.com.

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