Audi nearly lost Stefan Knirsch to the competition. Volkswagen Group's premium brand confirmed the powertrain development chief's departure by his own request last June. But then Audi "luckily," as one official put it, succeeded in luring him back. Knirsch, who declined to talk about the brief stint with the unnamed company, has big shoes to fill. In January he replaced Ulrich Hackenberg, the father of VW group's ultra-flexible modular architectures, as Audi's head of development. Knirsch outlined changes that Audi has made in the aftermath of VW Group's diesel emissions-cheating scandal and shared his views on the future of diesels, e-motors and autonomous cars with Automotive News Europe Correspondent Christiaan Hetzner and Automotive News Reporter Ryan Beene.
BMW CEO Harald Krueger says he can already see a time when it no longer makes sense to invest in diesel due to the rising cost. When will that happen?
Gasoline engines are also getting more expensive. Nearly every one today has a turbocharger, so you are adding nearly the same technology. Of course, diesels have a more expensive after-treatment system but gasoline engines will follow, with particulate filters and more expensive catalytic coatings. It makes no sense to talk only about the disappearance of the diesel. One day, the overall share of combustion engines will drop as the share of zero-emissions cars increase.
What do you think the fallout from VW Group's emissions-cheating scandal will cost the industry? Have you made any estimates so far?
Frankly speaking, no. This can be answered when we know how often they will want to see cars tested on the road. It doesn't make sense today to ask, "Do they want to see each and every new type tested twice a year?" because the discussions with regulators have not finished. We are pretty sure that we will return to normal discussions very soon.
Will Audi have to slash its development budget to help the parent company cover the cost of the scandal?
R&d expenditure rose by 5 percent or 6 percent annually over the past few years. We are sure that we have the financial power to maintain this. Of course, we are looking at ways to save, but we will not stop -- or even delay -- investing in future technology. That much is clear.
Have you revisited other certification applications for other engines submitted previously to ensure this doesn't happen again?
Of course. Currently we don't have the four-eye principle, it's more like the six- or eight-eye principle. That is a very normal reaction once you've undergone something like this. And, we are extending this beyond the exhaust emissions issue by looking at every software process in r&d within the entire company. We are taking preventive measures to make sure something like this cannot happen again.