Audi has never been about building automobiles for the hoi polloi. That’s what corporate cousins Volkswagen and SEAT are for. It is focused on building premium transportation for folks of wealth and taste. Lately, it has been thinking about how to do that in the car market of the future, which will feature autonomous electric cars that drive themselves most if not all the time.
Audi Elaine Autonomous Concept
At this year’s Frankfurt auto show, Audi is showcasing two such concept cars — the Aicon, a Level 5 autonomous car with not pedals and no steering wheel, and Elaine, a refreshed version of the e-tron Sportback electric SUV that graced the Audi podium at the Shanghai auto show earlier this year. It is content with Level 4 autonomy, which is more likely to see use on public roads sooner.
“To get to full autonomy, auto innovators will need to be transparent about what automated technologies can and cannot do, and the timeline for their availability. Audi has been and will remain at the forefront of this technology, leading the transformation in mobility to bring greater safety to our roads, improve system-wide efficiency, and offer greater mobility.” Audi says in a press release from the Frankfurt show.
Since Shanghai, Audi has added a more powerful processor and upgraded the onboard sensors. The autonomous concept is now able to drive hands free at speeds between 35 and 80 miles per hour and can change lanes on its own, freeing the driver to attend to more important tasks like taking selfies along the way or checking e-mail. If drivers are willing to wear a fitness tracker, the car can accurately keep track of how tired or stressed they are. An in cabin display can guide them in breathing exercises and the seats can be configured to massage passengers to the beat of music. Oh, happy days.
The Audi Elaine concept features a 429 horsepower electric powertrain good for 0 to 100 kph sprints in 4.5 seconds. It has a 95 kWh battery and a 311 miles range in the New European Drive Cycle. Subtract about 30% to get an idea what its EPA range will be. Self parking and wireless charging are part of the package. Audi says the car will be able to park itself, charge the battery, or maybe visit a car wash independently after the owner exits the vehicle. Life is good, huh?
Audi Aicon Autonomous Concept
Audi’s Aicon concept is where the real action is at Frankfurt, though. This car is like a Google car that is all grown up. It never needs a hand on the wheel or a stab on the brakes as it lacks any controls whatsoever. The Aicon is designed for smooth, effortless high speed touring. Since the car will virtually eliminate collisions, passengers won’t need to wear seat belts, Audi claims, leaving them free to play Parcheesi or compose sonatas on their smartphones.
The car has four electric motors that produce a total of 350 horsepower and 405 lb-ft of torque. Electronically controlled active suspension at all four wheels and torque vectoring mean the Audi Aicon can traverse any kind of road in any kind of weather. Lightweight construction and advanced aerodynamics should allow the car to travel up to 500 (NEDC) miles on a single battery charge.The batteries operate on 800 volts and can be charged in less than 30 minutes. Wireless charging is also built in to the package.
The Aicon is no compact car. Its wheelbase is more than 9 inches longer than the Audi A8L, the largest car Audi currently makes. Interior roominess is emphasized as is an aggressive exterior that speaks of power and grace beneath its sculpted flanks. On dark nights, a mini-drone detaches from the car to guide passengers to the door at their destination.
The Audi Aicon is a technological tour de force, one that cossets is occupants in sumptuous surroundings whilst going over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house. Whether the world of automobiles in the future will need a car that makes such conspicuous consumption possible remains to be seen. Such splendiferousness seems quaintly at odds with the mundane tasks of commuting to work and buying groceries, but if the need exists, Audi has every intention filling it.
It’s good to know that opulence will not become outmoded as the world transitions to self driving electric automobiles that whoosh us quietly and serenely about as we perform our appointed tasks each day.