Since arriving from Volvo this year to become Audi's board member for technical development, Peter Mertens has had to move fast. The Volkswagen Group subsidiary is striving to take an early lead in the race to offer autonomous driving technology with the Level 3-capable A8 sedan.
Audi also plans to debut one full-electric car each year from 2018 until 2020.
Mertens, 56, explained how Audi plans to achieve its autonomous and e-mobility goals, and how it will deepen ties with sister brand Porsche, when he met with Automotive News Europe Correspondent Christiaan Hetzner during the Frankfurt auto show last month.
Q: Audi has confirmed three electric vehicles. What else is planned under the new Roadmap E?
A: Models will come one after the other because we have a target that is somewhat more ambitious than the VW Group. By 2025, a third of our sales will come from plug-in hybrids and battery-electric vehicles.
What can we expect from the Premium Platform Electric that Audi and Porsche are developing jointly?
We have the lead for two of the three model families from the PPE architecture. We have broken the teams' technical responsibilities down into individual modules and systems. In the past, this is something that never really happened between these two companies on this scale. It shows what kind of potential we can leverage through the group.
Will Audi focus on the A4 and A6 segments?
Yes, that could very well be.
How much of the platform's volume will come from each brand?
The split could be about 60 percent Audi and 40 percent Porsche.
Audi aims to eliminate up to 40 percent of its drive systems in the long term. What do you have in mind?
We will thin out our engine-transmission combinations, but entire engine families might also disappear. Do we really need a V-10 and W-12 for the next generation of cars? We get questioned about the future of the V-8, and in particular, the diesel, but I cannot imagine we will do without it. We have a very important group of customers who really want eight-cylinder engines in larger vehicles. Will it exist forever? No, but it will for a rather long time.
When can we expect a Level 4 highly autonomous vehicle such as the Elaine concept Audi showed here?
It's realistic within a time frame of about five years. It could come a bit earlier or a bit later. We've made the first step toward Level 3 conditional autonomy with the A8, and we're working hard on making the jump to Level 4.
What can you tell us about the Elaine's Personal Intelligent Assistant, or PIA? Is it like an advanced version of Amazon's Alexa or Apple's Siri?
Digital assistants already exist and perform well in stationary environments. In the future, a PIA will be able to learn what kind of music you listen to or which restaurants you like and so on.
Cognitive understanding is more complicated, but it will undoubtedly come — and sooner than you think. When it does, we plan to make it available for mobile applications as well.
Will Audi develop this?
With the founding of our Autonomous Intelligent Driving subsidiary, we are in the process of expanding our own know-how and capacities in the area of AI. But I don't believe we will compete with the Amazons or the IBMs of the world.
You came as an outsider to a development department trying to overcome an emissions-cheating scandal. What changes are underway?
We're working very hard on several soft factors ranging from accountability to ethics. We are defining rules for 8,500 engineers, but you can't do that for everything. You also have to learn what is OK and what is not, and that doesn't happen from one day to the next.
We've started a process with [Volkswagen Group Head of Integrity and Legal Affairs] Hiltrud Werner to address the cultural aspect of the company to ensure this never happens again.