‘Car nation’ Germany distrustful of driverless vehicles
‘Car nation’ Germany distrustful of driverless vehicles
Curious visitors to the biennial trade fair, which lasts until September 24, can entrust their lives to a computer on a specially created car at a test track overlooked by Daimler and Volkswagen’s giant stands.
An expert is behind the wheel, if not grasping it firmly, to demonstrate how a car studded with sensors and cameras can perform an emergency stop, react to a sudden lane change or park itself — even while hauling a horse trailer.
“This is crazy!” one passenger laughed as their vehicle raced toward an obstacle at 50 kilometers per hour (30 mph) before braking sharply without the driver touching the controls.
Rival carmakers and parts suppliers — Daimler, Volkswagen, Audi, Bosch, Continental and ZF — came together for the scheme, part of a broader push for acceptance as high-tech US firms like Google and Tesla appear to be streaking ahead.
At present, just 26 percent of Germans say they would ride in an autonomous car, while even fewer — 18 percent — would own one, a recent survey from consultancy firm Ernst & Young found.
“The braking was great fun,” Lena Dickeduisberg, a student, said after stepping out of the demonstration car, her hair slightly tousled from the ride.
Beyond the thrill of the test track, cars will need to perform such maneuvers reliably in all kinds of situations if carmakers are ever to attain the highest level of autonomy, known as “level five” — meaning a car that can do without a driver altogether.
“It will take time, but it’s the future,” Dickeduisberg smiled confidently. “I believe in the technology.”
“What a dream it would be, a car that takes me from A to B while I read the paper or my clients’ documents. But maybe I’m just saying that because of my age,” said salesman Randolf Mayer, 61.
The two are far from typical among the German public, long wedded to the idea that driving should be pleasurable.
Volkswagen adverts in the 1990s introduced the United States to its self-minted German portmanteau “Fahrvergnuegen” — or “driving enjoyment.”
“Driving isn’t just functional, it’s got to be enjoyable,” said Georg Pfennig, an Austrian attendee.
Automation “makes sense for young people or for the elderly who might have trouble with some maneuvers,” he grudgingly allowed.
Self-driving cars “could drive as a convoy on motorways where everything is automated, but not to go shopping in town,” judged Lars Heider, an engineering student.
“Unless everyone is using one, but then you have to be able to afford a self-driving car,” he added.
The auto industry is all too aware of the cost of automation, which remains “very high,” said Patrick Koller, chief executive of parts supplier Faurecia.
Joint investments in research and development have become the rule in the field, such as the German carmaker BMW’s alliance with US-based chipmaker Intel, Israeli smart-camera firm Mobileye and Italian-American FiatChrysler.
Elsewhere, the Mercedes-Benz maker Daimler has joined forces with the parts supplier Bosch, while Volkswagen is drawing on its luxury subsidiary Audi.
And Audi, BMW and Daimler pooled their cash to buy Here, a company specializing in the hyper-detailed maps that are vital for autonomous driving.
But ordinary drivers must be convinced that autonomous driving is safe before their reticence can be overcome, according to the Center of Automotive Management (CAM), a research institute near Cologne in western Germany.
Self-driving cars “will save lives,” Rolf Bulander, the head of Bosch’s mobility division, told AFP, adding that he believed “people will get used” to the increasing power and adaptability of driving-assistance systems.
Enormous sums are at stake for companies like Bosch, which expects revenue from such systems to double by 2019, reaching 2 billion euros ($2.4 billion).
Audi launches electric SUV in Tesla’s backyard, with assist from Amazon
SAN FRANCISCO: German luxury car brand Audi on Monday staged the global launch of a new electric sport utility vehicle on the home turf of rival Tesla Inc, and highlighted a deal with Amazon.com Inc. to make recharging its forthcoming e-tron models easier.
The Audi e-tron midsize SUV will be offered in the United States next year at a starting price of $75,795 before a $7,500 tax credit. It is one of a volley of electric vehicles coming from Volkswagen AG brands, as well as other European premium brands including Daimler-owned Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Volvo Cars and Jaguar Land Rover.
All aim to expand the market for premium electric vehicles and also to grab share of that market from Palo Alto, California-based Tesla, which has had the niche largely to itself.
“I want Audi to be the number-one electric vehicle seller in America over the long term,” Audi of America President Scott Keogh told Reuters in an interview on Monday.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who is also head of rocket company SpaceX, planned to mark the e-tron launch occasion by staging a SpaceX event in Los Angeles at roughly the same time on Monday evening as Audi’s unveiling.
Audi and parent Volkswagen are using the US launch of the e-tron SUV in mid-2019 to take aim at one obstacle to expanding electric vehicle sales — the lack of convenient ways to recharge their batteries.
Audi will partner with online retailer Amazon to sell and install home electric vehicle charging systems to buyers of the e-tron, the companies said on Monday. Amazon will deliver the hardware and hire electricians to install them through its Amazon Home Services operation.
Amazon’s partnership with Audi to provide home charging systems is the first time the online retailer has struck such a deal with an automaker, and signals a new front in Amazon’s drive to expand its reach into consumers’ homes beyond the presence of its Alexa smart speakers in living rooms and kitchens.
“We see charging installation as a very important business,” Pat Bigatel, director of Amazon Home Services, told Reuters at Audi’s launch event in San Francisco’s Bill Graham Civic Center.
Audi executives said home charging stations would cost about $1,000, depending on the home’s electrical system.
Tesla offers wall connectors for home charging at a $500 list price, and will arrange for installation, according to the company.
At the same time, Electrify America, a company funded by Volkswagen as part of its settlement of US diesel emission cheating litigation, plans to launch next year the next round of installations of public charging stations, Electrify America executives told Reuters.
Tesla has developed its own network of Supercharger charging stations with more than 11,000 chargers in North America. Electrify America plans to have 2,000 chargers installed by mid-June next year. Those will be open to any vehicle, and customers can swipe a credit card to recharge.
“We want to work with all” automotive brands, said Giovanni Palazzo, Electrify America’s chief executive.
Lifting the Curtain
Audi has been heralding the launch of the e-tron SUV for some time, but until Monday it had not shared many details of the vehicle.
The e-tron is electric, and has two electric motors — one in the front and one in the rear — driving all four wheels. The Hungarian factory building motors for the e-tron will start with a production pace equivalent to 200 vehicles a day, Audi officials said.
In Europe, the vehicle will use cameras instead of conventional mirrors to give drivers a view to the rear. That feature is still not approved by US regulators.
However, in many other respects the e-tron is a conventional, mainstream luxury SUV. It offers seating for five, and its length and wheelbase position it in the center of the market for midsize, five-passenger luxury SUVs such as the BMW X5. The e-tron is 5 inches (13 cm) shorter than the Tesla Model X, and it has conventional doors. The Model X uses vertically opening “falcon wing” doors.
The e-tron will have an advanced cruise-control system that can keep the car within a lane and maintain a set distance behind another vehicle, but the system will be designed so that drivers must keep hands on the wheel.
Audi officials said they do not have official range estimates for the e-tron SUV under US testing procedures. The e-tron’s 95 kWh battery has less capacity than the 100 kWh battery used in the Tesla Model X 100D model, but more than the base Model X 75D.
The Model X 100D is rated at 295 miles (475 km) of range by the US government.