Q&A: Audi electronics chief Willibert Schleuter describes the role of his new electronics center

Ingolstadt. Audi has opened a new electronics center to strengthen its vehicle systems expertise and reduce costs. Audi's electronic engineering director Willibert Schleuter talked to Automobilwoche about the company's aims.

Q: Audi has never been thought of as a pioneer in electronics. Are you catching up with your new center?

A: No, because we are not behind. There are competitors who started with interlinking of control systems ten years before us. However, since 1996 we have made a big effort to catch up with them and, since the launch of the current A8, we are now on the same level with our rivals.

Q: In which areas does Audi determine the standard?

A: We are ahead of our rivals with innovations such as our Multi Media Interface (MMI) control system. It will remain difficult for competitors to catch up with us for years. MMI is part of the new A6 sedan and it is integrated in the new system Navigation plus, which is featured in the A3, A4 and A6 Avant. Audi is the world's first manufacturer to use uniform control principles for all its vehicles for infotainment systems with screens.

Q: What are Audi's further strengths?

A: We are more efficient than our competitors in regard to planning model start-ups and interlinking ideas, people and systems. We caught up with rivals because we brought specialists from suppliers into our team. That way we managed to quickly gain competence. Forty percent of our leading team are people whom we managed to win over from companies such as Temic, Blaupunkt, Bosch, Siemens VDO or from competitors.

Q: What part did the electronics center have in increasing that efficiency?

A: Before we moved into the center employees from the electronics engineering sector were working in different buildings. Our colleagues from the purchasing, quality assurance or controlling departments were even further away. The new center is designed in such a way as to allow colleagues from different sectors to work together in one process chain. Due to the short distances between us we save time.

Q: How much?

A: I would rather calculate in resources. Electronic systems have grown dramatically in content during the past few years. Look at the memory capacity for example. Ten years ago the A8 had a capacity of one megabyte. The new one has 90 megabytes. Those are quantum leaps. At the same time our area of activity has also grown. Because of the increased efficiency in our new building we didn't need to employ too many new people.

Q: And how many employees can you dispense with?

A: We didn't add it up but I would estimate we are talking about between ten and twenty percent.

Q: How are you interlinked with the other brands of the group?

A: We are very closely interlinked with Seat and Lamborghini and are about to intensify this cooperation. By using common electronics modules such as the high-end systems within infotainment we hope to manage a higher volume and therefore to produce in a more cost efficient way.

Q: Do those brands also profit from the center?

A: Yes, definitely. Here in Ingolstadt we have a Seat employee and there is also a person from my field who is in charge of Lamborghini. Our former engineering design boss, Werner Mischke, is now the head of Lamborghini so we have a very personal relationship with our Italian partner. Our showpiece "Navigation plus" will soon also be used by Lamborghini proves. This shows how well the cooperation works.

Q: And how does the cooperation with Volkswagen work?

A: In the past we sometimes went along separate paths, as you can see with the MMI in the Audi A8 and the infotainment system used in the VW Phaeton. In future we will cooperate closer and will have clear responsibilities. For example Audi is responsible for high-end systems within the VW Group's infotainment segment. These are based on the MOST data bus system. Furthermore we are currently developing architecture for body electronics. This project is a general concept and is taking place in close cooperation with VW. That way we can reduce costs and at the same time improve the quality.

Q: How much are electronics in regard to a car's total costs?

A: The cost of electronics on fully equipped Audi models is between 30 and 40 percent of the total costs.

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