Auto Brands to Apple and Google: We’ll Win the Self-Driving Future

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One hundred and seventy-eight billion dollars. As the size of Apple’s pile of cash, it’s enough to send fear into the hearts of any potential target. That includes the auto industry, which is trying to process the recent news that Apple has at least 200 people working on the possibility of applying a big hunk of that cash to making an iCar of sorts.

But at the Geneva Auto Show this week and other industry get-togethers, car titans are going out of their way to reassure their shareholders, employees—and themselves—that they can rise to the challenge of meeting Apple and Google and other tech giants on the playing field that the auto industry knows best: making cars. That includes cars that are self-driven, network-connected or race cars.[more]

To that end, ED Design showed off the Torq, which is not only autonomous but window-free.

BMW also showed a competition against a self-driving (and self-drifting) car, while the Rinspeed Budii concept is based on a BMW i3.

“The convergence of automobile technology with the tech world is a huge opportunity,” Daimler AG CEO Dieter Zetsche told reporters in Geneva. “I see it only as a positive (but) it’s clear that new technologies can have a destructive quality.”

Somewhat less sanguine about a future with Apple and Google in the auto industry was Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne. “I’m concerned about somebody of that caliber playing the disrupter role,” he said at Geneva. “Apple has credibility and much more capacity to finance itself than any car producer.”

It’s not like automakers have been sitting still and suddenly the concept of a self-driving car struck one of Google’s big thinkers and no one in the car industry. The development and rollout of dozens of so-called “assisted driving” features has been going on across vehicle lineups for many years and has been accelerating at a pace exceeded only by that of connectivity features.

These features—including computer-controlled distancing from cars ahead, automatic braking, “lane-departure warning” systems and self-parking—can add up to give drivers of some high-end automobiles a feeling they’re already being driven by their brainy vehicles.

Mercedes-Benz and Audi have been especially bold about putting such technologies together into prototypes that demonstrate their prowess in actual automated driving, such as when Audi assembled and trained a group of journalists and put them in an A7 concept sedan that drove them, pretty much autonomously, from Silicon Valley, 550 miles, to Las Vegas for the CES in January.

At Geneva, Audi was pumping up the volume again, demonstrating new technologies in its sleek R8 sports car that car industry types believe Google and Apple couldn’t come close to touching for several years.

The new R8, for example, is built largely of lightweight aluminum and carbon fiber and features other technologies such as futuristic laser headlights. On the “self-driving” front, Audi has run R8 on autopilot at more than 200 km/h around Germany’s Hockenheim Formula One racetrack, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“Our goal was to bring all new technologies into the car,” Heinz Hollerweger, head of the Audi performance unit Quattro GmbH, told the Journal.

Audi, other carmakers and otheres are working together on the important issues of safety, regulation and social acceptability of driverless cars, and many of them are working with Google and Apple on connectivity systems that obviously play a role in self-driving.

Another issue they’re confronting is auto insurers and suppliers who must tell their own investors frankly these days that they aren’t quite sure how the future of self-driving will affect their own businesses.

But don’t doubt the fierce independence of Audi and other carmakers when it comes to their desire to get to the top of the automated-driving mountain alone, before anyone else—including Google and Apple.

“We are actually timing for market now some of the [self-driving] features that we’ve already demonstrated, and you’ll start seeing them in upcoming vehicles,” Anupam Malhotra, senior manager of connected vehicles and infotainment for Audi of America, told brandchannel.

When? Pay attention to the 2018-model Audi A8 Sedan when it’s introduced in the US.

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