Modern luxury is based in connectivity, applications, and distancing one from the experience of driving altogether — or at least that’s what the automotive industry now seems to believe.
And they may have a point. While we’re well aware those advocating “mobility” desperately want it so that they can tap into your data (to enhance revenue using the same grimy business tactics favored by big tech firms), carmakers also need something shiny to dangle in front of consumers so we’ll buy the latest and greatest product. The tech sector is also booming right now, and the industry’s dying to get investors back on its side after seeing the Wall Street performance of EV companies — especially Tesla Motors.
Even the traditionalists at Toyota are buying into it, announcing an important push into software development as they attempt to craft the next industry-standard operating system for cars. It’s also the song Volkswagen Group has sung ever since Dieselgate. Meanwhile, Audi recently explained its own commitment to software after its parent company (VW) tasked it with ensuring the botched launches of the ID.3 and Mk8 Golf don’t become commonplace.
“When it comes to digitalization we are lagging behind — for now,” Audi CEO Markus Duesmann said in an interview explaining the company’s new Project Artemis program to Reuters (via the New York Times).
The project involves taking around 200 employees and using them to accelerate the software going into a scalable vehicle platform; they’ll be allowed to operate somewhat autonomously from Volkswagen Group. Duesmann said this is necessary due to the stakes at play. The group already intends to bring a “highly automated” electric vehicle to the public in just a handful of years.
“To develop a new car with so many new features in this period until 2024 is so demanding that it is probably without precedent. That’s why we have decided to work with a separate unit,” he explained.
With the advent of self-driving cars, vehicles need processors and software operating systems to analyze data from radar, lidar, and camera sensors to calculate driving reflexes so cars can navigate and avoid accidents on their own.
In the past, bigger cars with more powerful engines were automatically better. Now computing power and intelligence will be a key metric for defining what is premium, forcing Audi and VW to retool the way they design cars.
“Technical development of vehicles is no longer organized according to a vehicle’s size, but by the car’s electrical and electronic architecture,” Duesmann said, explaining that premium and high-value models would now differentiate themselves according to their computing power and sensor levels.
Much of the industry is already deep into the process of digitizing everything it possibly can. Any company snubbing the assumed technological bonanza runs the risk of looking old-fashioned, falling behind, and losing out on wads of cash made available through data acquisition and updated business models. This is also why so many of these big moves between industry giants look so similar.
Audi’s Project Artemis is a near carbon copy of Woven Planet Holdings (aka the rebranded Toyota Research Institute). Both use names that distance themselves from traditional industry players, designed to welcome new partnerships and outside investment. Self-driving is a concern but secondary to building on the software used for in-car operating systems and the new features they bring to the table. Ideally, the VW Group would like to see this happen as quickly as possible.
“If we gain speed with a supplier or with a software company, we will consider it. Speed is extremely important,” Duesmann said. China is also supposed to play a large role in the program but the CEO declined to elaborate.
Artemis will be working alongside VW’s Car.Software team, rather than absorbing it. Duesmann noted it will be important to have staffers embedded in various departments to ensure a degree of mental flexibility.
a version of this article first appeared on TTAC