SEEING <br/>BEYOND <br/>2020
Photo: Getty Images
A sharp vision at Audi keeps our sights trained on the future of electrification and AI.
“Any car that merely takes you from A to B does not go far enough.” —August Horch, founder of Audi Automobilwerke GmbH
As recently as October 2012, we set for ourselves what many considered a lofty goal at the time: 200,000 U.S. vehicle sales by the year 2020. In typical Audi fashion, we outpaced expectations, and we were able to shatter that goal within three years.
Let’s face it: As humans, our ability to predict the future is limited. We were supposed to have flying cars by now. Science fiction of the 1980s told us that we’d be getting around slick cityscapes on hoverboards or marauding on motorcycle fumes through a dystopia.
While most visions of the future have dissolved when confronted with the reality of the present, we at Audi have managed to bring some of science fiction’s most-anticipated technologies to life. The world’s first vehicle designed to support SAE Level 3 automation is coming in the new Audi A8. We’re producing more electric vehicles in the next three years than we have in our entire history. And in the ultimate validation of formerly erroneous prognosticators, we are planning to bring artificial intelligence to the road in the year 2020.
Chip off the
new block
Artificial intelligence provides the backbone for piloted driving, driverless cars and ride-sharing. Photos: Shutterstock, Audi AG
Hands off at CES
Of all the vehicles in the parking lot outside of the CES 2017, a single Audi Q7 commanded special attention from CES conference-goers. Not only outfitted with next-gen technologies like Traffic jam assist, this Q7 was driven not by a person but by a microchip.
As Jen-Hsun Huang, founder, president and CEO of NVIDIA Corp., exclaimed during his keynote opposite Audi of America President Scott Keogh, “There’s an Audi with an NVIDIA AI car computer in the Gold Lot driving by itself today, right now.” With AI, we are not talking about a distant future but a rapidly maturing present. After all, as Keogh noted, the Audi collaboration with NVIDIA has been the brand’s “secret sauce” for innovation for the duration of the companies’ ten-year-long relationship.
For the rest of us at Audi, that sauce is working. “We’re excited,” Keogh said during the keynote. “We’re talking a highly automated vehicle in numerous situations by 2020.” While the impact of robots eventually taking the wheel is still to be determined, the reality of it is close at hand. As Huang said at CES, “Not end of next year, not end of this year—right now.”
For next-gen automotive minds, AI is the key to piloted driving, driverless cars and ride-sharing. “What we’re finding out is when you get out there in the real world, it is complicated,” Keogh said in an interview at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit earlier this year. “[With] computer software, what you need is endless: ‘If x then y, if x then y.’ You’ll never deal with all the complexity on the road, and that’s why you need artificial intelligence. Take the machine learning of thousands of vehicles over millions of miles and all that intelligence, and put that in the car.”
For Audi, AI is the way to get to piloted driving sooner. And it is coming sooner than anyone may have guessed, with highly automated AI testing on public roads starting in 2020 and the world’s first Level 4 autonomous vehicle anticipated to be on the roads in 2020.
A Brief History of Piloted 
Driving at Audi
The Audi piloted driving program has come a long way since the beginning of the project over ten years ago.
01. The Audi TTS set the world land speed record for a piloted vehicle in 2009 and then climbed Pikes Peak without a driver the following year.
02. In 2013, the Audi A7 was the first vehicle to receive a permit for autonomous testing in Nevada.
03. A specially modified Audi RS 7 was the first automated vehicle to complete a lap at the Hockenheimring racetrack at racing speeds.
04. The Audi Q7 showcased its ability to navigate the changing conditions of a dynamic test course in the parking lot of CES 2017.
Photo: Shutterstock
Changing currents
In addition to piloted driving advancements made thanks to the cooperation of the automotive and technology sectors, we anticipate a strong demand for fully electric vehicles. In fact, Audi has a strong commitment to electrification as the mobility solution of the future, with Audi executives aiming for 25 percent of all vehicles sold in 2025 to be electric.
To accommodate the changing tastes of consumers, a new fully electric Audi e-tron® SUV will be introduced in 2018, with a sportback design following in 2019. These unique vehicles will represent the high-water mark of electric capability when they are released.
It doesn’t end there. We’re releasing three battery-electric models by 2020 and planning subsequent releases of electrified versions of other models. But building the vehicles won’t be enough to shift the paradigm. Drivers will need convenient, and fast, recharging to continue to drive the way they have become accustomed to, which is why we are making investments in the infrastructure necessary to power this new way of life.
And thanks to an initiative by automakers, Europe can expect similar high-powered charging along major highways by the year 2020. According to Rupert Stadler, Chairman of the Board at Audi AG, “We intend to create a network that allows our customers on long-distance trips to use a coffee break for recharging.” It’s this kind of commitment to making the electric driving experience reliable and fast that will finally make electrification viable and, according to Stadler, “speed up the shift towards emission-free driving.”
We know our goals for 2020 and beyond are ambitious. But we aren’t simply anticipating trends, we are forging ahead in our typical way—boldly, with innovation and performance in mind.
“Most car companies like to...protect themselves,” Keogh said at CES. “At Audi, we don’t look to protect ourselves. We like to compete. We like to innovate.” At Audi, our innovation will always keep our vision on the horizon of human achievement while meeting new mobility problems with new solutions. Sometimes, it’s difficult to predict the future, but our confidence in it and in our engineering give us a good idea of how we’ll succeed in it.