Detroit, MI – It’s been a while since I last attended the annual North American International Auto Show media preview so the invite to the 2017 edition was a treat.

The crowded media feeding frenzies were just the same as ever but the new vehicle intro events, however, tend to be tamer affairs these days. The emphasis is largely on corporate business not show business, which, of course, is sensible … yet, I do miss that old razzle dazzle!

Not here in person, but the Donald Trump-effect was evident, following the president-elect’s unpleasant utterings about manufacturers who shift production outside of the USA. Almost every auto industry spokesperson talked about American vehicle production numbers, American production content, American employment numbers or planned future growth in America, etc. Oddly enough, Chrysler (aka FCA) did not host an auto show press conference this year, in its home city!

The Ford media presentation was another low-key affair, with top executives mainly talking about future mobility, sustainability and autonomous driving. An updated F150 (all-new 3 years ago) was paraded but the big news for Ford fans is that Ranger, a midsize pickup truck, is back in 2019 and an all-new Bronco will follow in 2020. Both will be produced in a Ford assembly plant in Michigan, USA.

My favourite auto industry speaker was Carlos Ghosn, Chairman and CEO, Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.. During his articulate and insightful keynote address he clarified the difference between an autonomous vehicle and a driverless vehicle. He expects there will be various levels of autonomy offered by auto makers, including Nissan in 2021. A driver will be able to choose when he/she wants it to operate this vehicle in an autonomous mode. The Ghosn definition of a driverless vehicle, on the other hand, is one that has no steering wheel or driver controls. Basically, it’s a robotic transportation appliance on wheels.

Volvo introduced us to the Hains family from Gothenburg. They are the first of 100 families who agreed to take an autonomous Volvo XC90 SUV and be part of Volvo’s long-term Drive Me research program. It will be the world’s largest autonomous driving test on real roads and with real people, according to Volvo. Volvo is also working with Uber on an autonomous ride-hailing program.

Volkswagen really set the room abuzz was the I.D. Buzz. Another microbus concept from VW and this one is autonomous and full-electric.

Bucking the driver-less trend of this year’s show, Kia introduced Stinger, a stylish driver-focused rear-drive (or all-wheel-drive) sports sedan. Its 3.3-litre V6 engine can produce 365 horsepower and get Stinger to 100 km/hour in less than 6 seconds.

The Four Rings rang with the world premiere of the company’s latest utility vehicle addition: the 2018 Audi SQ5.

Boasting new suspension and a powerful update to the power train – a 3.0L V6 that claims to blast the compact crossover from zero to 100 in 5.1 seconds with its 354 horses (and 369 lb.-ft. of torque) – marshalled by an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Audi also showed the Q8 Concept vehicle, billed as the “first full-size SUV in coupe design”, is the basis of what will become, they say, a production vehicle that will be launched for real in 2018 as a powerful (and of course luxurious) hybrid that are already looking forward to here at Driveway.

Mercedes Benz kicked off with a musical quartet that culminated in the German manufacturer’s personable chairman Dieter Zetsche taking the stage. The 2018 GLA compact SUV gets a new face for the new year, and redesigned bumpers. The E-class Coupe made its world debut, adding to an already comprehensive array of recent new models from Benz.

bob [dot] mchugh [at] drivewaybc [dot] ca

Le Mans, France – The historic 24-hour endurance race held here annually is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

For all but the most rabid fans of this auto sport, the opportunity to attend the race that began back in 1923, likely only comes once. For scribes the invites regularly arrive in the Inbox but to date, I’ve resisted. The daddy of all endurance races is frequently described as the most gruelling event on the calendar, even for spectators!

Ah, but this year the email arrived from Audi. I figured this would be a first class way to take in the race made more famous in North America by the dreadful Steve McQueen feature film “Le Mans”. (No plot worthy of mention but great footage of crashing cars.)

The flight from Vancouver and TGV fast train from Paris to this Loire Valley town was almost a 24-hour endurance trek in itself. The short drive from the station, past fields of tents and camper trailers, not to mention bedraggled race fans walking zombie-like through teeming rain, did not lift spirits.

Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich (Head of Audi Sport), André Lotterer, Marcel Fässler, Brad Pitt, Dr.-Ing. Stefan Knirsch
Atmosphere
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24h Le Mans 2016

But the first sight of the Audi Racing Hotel, just outside the track, was promising. This temporary hotel, constructed to house more than 800 guests in two exhibition halls, looked like luxury. Well, it was in comparison to where most of the other 262,700 spectators were snoozing. My ceiling-less, cubicle-room would be just fine, thank you. Inside, its wafer thin walls there was a single bed, desk, light, decorative flower, and vital toiletry kit.

To the track for the race start. Bit anti-climactic as it started behind the safety car for many laps as the rain continued to fall.

The Audi Racing Bar and Sky Restaurant, situated at the top of the main grand stand opposite the start/finish line and pits, beckoned. Aha, the Audi we know and love: quality food is served and drinks flow. The sun makes an appearance and dislodges me from my perch. On to the Audi Arena, located by the final chicane of the 13.6-klometre track. It’s very loud there but you can still hear the cars over the sounds of clinking champagne glasses.

Personally, I preferred the sports bar below where you could watch the race on a large screen and the UEFA Euro 2016 soccer games on a second screen below, while chomping on delicious thin crust pizza. I would have taken advantage of the vintage barbershop but couldn’t decide which hair to cut on my balding pate. I resisted the fish spa next door where tired feet dangled in aquariums while tiny fish nibbled away at dead skin.

Serious race fans lowered themselves into beanbags placed on a tiered area, separating the two floors, where they watched – mainly through closed eyelids – the track activity on a massive screen.

Time for a nap. Earplugs in and eyeshade in place helped me catch six hours shuteye. A splash in the communal shower then back to the track to buy souvenirs for jealous friends back home. I spied movie star Brad Pitt and movie hard man Jason Statham, also guests of Audi.
The Audi Pit Lounge offered a view of the dirty end of the race and the Audi Garden served a delightful breakfast. Audi helicopters buzzed guests aloft but I took the elevator to the Racing Bar once again and watched the cars fly by. Oh yes, cars.

Audi has enjoyed huge success in recent years using diesel-fuelled engines for the endurance race series. For this season, the Audi R18 e-tron features a new hybrid system capable of delivering 1,000 horses to the wheels. Interestingly, this power consumes 32 per cent less fuel than its first V6 diesel race engine and 46 per cent less than the V12 diesel of a decade ago.

Victory was denied by turbocharger problems but Audi took third and fourth spots behind the winner Porsche and runner-up Toyota.

The Q7 e-tron 3.0 TDI quattro, now for sale in German dealerships, uses this same technology and that technology transfer from track to road cars will undoubtedly move along at Le Mans speed.

Great fun but I think I’ll make it a once-in-a-lifetime experience and recall it fondly as I build he LEGO version of the R18 with my grandson Francis.

keith [dot] morgan [at] drivewaybc [dot] ca

Cars that are equipped with the new traffic jam assist with autonomous steering, braking and acceleration, up to 60 km/h, will feel like driving a spaceship.

(more…)

Audi continues to push digital empowerment with the launch of the world’s fourth location of the brand’s digital showroom – Audi City Istanbul.

More cyber stores in more major cities will follow this year. In addition, digital technologies from the Audi City concept will be introduced in around 200 traditional dealerships by the end of 2016.

“As a young, Internet-savvy city, Istanbul is an ideal place for the next stage in our push to connect Audi’s sales network with the digital world,” says Dietmar Voggenreiter, Board Member for Sales and Marketing at AUDI AG.

“We have systematically enhanced the successful technologies of Audi City and have made them even more powerful and efficient.”

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As a showroom concept for prime locations in major international metropolitan areas, Audi City combines digital brand and product presentations with personal consultation and premium service. Visitors can configure their Audi virtually on room-high “powerwalls” and experience them in almost true-to-life, full scale.

In Istanbul, Audi City is presenting the entire portfolio of the brand on a space of just 234 square metres and is setting new standards in digitalized sales. Enhanced powerwalls offer photo-realistic display – making customizing a new Audi seem a lot like going to the movies.

At the same time, the latest development stage of the sales concept achieves significant gains in efficiency: energy consumption as well as costs for hardware and operation have been halved.

The new digital Audi flagship store is located inside Istanbul’s “İstinye Park” shopping mall, one of the city’s most exclusive shopping destinations.

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As a pioneer in digitalized car sales, AUDI AG launched the first Audi City in London back in 2012, and since then has attracted many new customers with the digital showroom. Beijing (2013) and Berlin (2014) followed as next Audi City locations.

The company has also continued to systematically enhance Audi City technologies in order to successively introduce them into traditional dealerships as well.

keith [dot] morgan [at] drivewaybc [dot] ca

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Audi’s autonomous A7 research car has not only learned how to autonomously perform all of its driving manouevres on the highway, it’s learned good driving manners!

‘Jack’ as it’s affectionately known exhibits a driving style that is adaptive to the given situation, safe and especially interactive with other road users.

Audi reports that ‘Jack’ confidently deals with hazardous points on the road and now gives trucks and wider berth when passing and signals upcoming lane changes in a timely fashion.

The cooperative attitude of ‘Jack’ is especially apparent when other vehicles want to merge into the lane, such as on an expressway. Here the test car decides – based on the selected driving profile – whether to accelerate or brake, depending on which is best suited to handling the traffic situation harmoniously for all road users.

Some would suggest such courteous driving habits surpass those of many real live human drivers on today’s roads!

The super brain of the vehicle is the central driver assistance controller, or zFAS. It uses state-of-the-art, high-performance processors to evaluate the signals from all sensors in real-time and create a model of the car’s surroundings. This model represents the prevailing traffic situation as accurately as possible and lets the zFAS calculate upcoming manouevres.

Audi has already derived systems for assisted driving from the tested technologies. Audi is currently offering production car technologies such as the function for assisted driving in traffic jams in the Audi A4 and Audi Q7.

Audi predicts that in the future, cars and the infrastructure will communicate with one another more intensively. In the future, information on variable-message traffic signs will be digitally transmitted into the car in order to assist the traffic flow.

Another step forward is Car-to-Car communication between automobiles that are travelling on the same routes. They can report on hazardous points and accidents in real time. The driving speeds of other road users operating with autonomous driving are then automatically adjusted to the potential hazard.

The Audi ad campaign includes an exclusive digital video called “The Chase,” directed by the film’s directors Anthony and Joe Russo.

(more…)

Picking five top vehicles for the year is near impossible, but here are the ones that made the biggest impression on me (more…)

Keith Morgan takes Audi’s upcoming A4 on a romantic drive through Italy’s Veneto…

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“Audi at home is offering a ready-to-drive fleets of six vehicles exclusively for residents of select luxury properties in two states.”

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They’re taking ridesharing to a whole new level south of the border.

Audi at home is offering a ready-to-drive fleets of six vehicles exclusively for residents of select luxury properties in two states.

On the west coast, the car share scheme will operate at LUMINA by Tishman Speyer, San Francisco’s largest luxury condominium project currently under construction, while the Four Seasons Residences in Miami will offer the service on the east coast. The service will soon expand to other major U.S. cities.

Residents will be able to book a vehicle instantly and tailor their choice to the kind of driving they expect to do. The fleet currently includes the Audi S7, S5 Cabriolet, SQ5, TT Roadster, Q7, and RS5 Cabriolet.

“Spontaneity, personalization and customization is core to the Audi at home service,” said Mark Del Rosso Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Audi of America. “It provides residents a truly premium experience that suits their daily life and needs, whether it’s a car for a quick getaway out of the city or an extra vehicle for visiting guests.”

The reservation process is simple: interested residents register through the property’s concierge and use a mobile website to reserve the vehicle of their choice. Upon the conclusion of the reservation, residents simply return the Audi vehicle to the property valet.

All Audi at home vehicles are equipped with Prestige trim, and 24/7 live customer care is offered for drivers’ convenience. Rates – still to be announced – will be charged either hourly or daily. This rate covers services including cleaning, fuel, insurance, local tolls and unlimited mileage. All vehicles onsite are rotated on a regular basis, providing residents a fresh fleet from which to choose.

Another program may offer a clue to costs of participation. Audi on demand, started in San Francisco last April, giving customers within the city limits access to a wide range of vehicles, from the A4 sedan ($155 a day) to the Audi R8 supercar ($1,195 a day). Via an iPhone app, customers select their preferred model and then have it personally delivered to them at the San Francisco location of their choice.

VIDEO: Audi R8 – evo Review

“Its typical SUV body and flat, coupe-like cabin give the Audi e-tron quattro concept a very dynamic appearance.”

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Audi has released an artist’s impression of its e-tron quattro concept car, which will be unveiled

The sporty SUV is designed from the ground up and follows the Audi “Aerosthetics” concept, combining technical measures for reducing aerodynamic drag with creative design solutions. Movable aerodynamic elements at the front, on the sides and at the rear improve the air flow around the car. The aerodynamically optimized underbody is completely closed. With a cd value of 0.25, the car sets a new record in the SUV segment. This contributes considerably to the long range of more than 500 kilometres.

The study is based on the second-generation modular longitudinal platform, which provides considerable scope for the drive system and package. Its length is between that of the Audi Q5 and the Q7. Its typical SUV body and flat, coupe-like cabin give the Audi e-tron quattro concept a very dynamic appearance. The spacious interior offers room for four people.

The large lithium-ion battery is positioned between the axles and below the passenger compartment. This installation position provides for a low center of gravity and a balanced axle load distribution. And that gives the car better driving dynamics and driving safety than other vehicles in the segment.

Audi uses its experience with the electrically driven Audi R8 e-tron sports car for the drive system. Three electric motors – one on the front axle and two on the rear axle – drive the Audi e-tron quattro concept. And that makes it an electrified quattro, the e-tron quattro – efficient and dynamic at the same time.

Contact the writer at keith [dot] morgan [at] drivewaybc [dot] ca

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