VW sets out a tech vision for the future

Audi teaming up with Google is just one of the moves planned in major R&D drive at the group

Volkswagen Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn poses in a VW T-ROC concept car during the company’s Group Night event

Volkswagen Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn poses in a VW T-ROC concept car during the company’s Group Night event

 

The motor industry is facing the most radical overhaul in over a century, according to the head of VW Group. That’s why the firm’s premium brand, Audi, is teaming up with Google to bring some of the tech sector flexibility and speed of change to the motor trade.

Speaking at last night’s Geneva motor show preview event, Chief Executive Officer Martin Winterkorn said there were customers were radically changing their expectations and the long lifecycles of car models is going to have to be shortened in the future.

The so-called Group night is a show of force by the German brand, still determined to be the world’s largest car producer by 2018. Each of the brands in its portfolio - from Bentley to Bugatti and Seat to Ducati - show off their latest wares in front of the patriarchal figure of VW Chairman Ferdinand Piech.

Last night’s event comprised several concepts unlikely to ever see the light of day - such as the Skoda Vision C, an Audi A7 lookalike. However there was some new metal on show, in particular the new Audi TT, which will take to roads in the coming months.

The third generation of the premium coupé, it retains its iconic profile, particularly at the rear, but incorporates a far more advanced interior cabin with more electronics than we have seen on display in a production Audi in this price range.

For the Volkswagen brand, the big news is the arrival of the new electric Golf, which will make it onto Irish roads this year. The top of the range version is the GTE, billed as an electric GTI, but promising a fuel economy of 1.5 l/100km from a combined petrol-electric powertrain putting out 204bhp. It’s a plug-in hybrid at heart - the same as the upcoming Audi A3 e-tron, and can do 50km on electric-only power when fully charged before reverting to the engine for support. VW are claiming the car can manage a range of 1,000kms.

Also on show was the smart looking T-Roc concept, which will go into production in a slightly watered-down version aimed at competing at the small entry-level SUV segment, currently led by the likes of the Nissan Juke. Built on the same award-winning MQB platform as the Golf it will be formally introduced later this year.

Aside from this there was another special edition Bugatti, the Rembrandt. The fourth in its “Legends” series, and like the others just three will be built, sold no doubt to billionaires who struggle to remember how many cars they have in their air-conditioned garages.

The main message, however, came from Winterkorn in his closing speech, where he once more committed the firm to having the lowest average emissions across its fleet of any car producer by 2018. He indicated that plug-in hybrid versions of the Audi A8, A6 and Q7 are on the way.

The changing consumer demands in a world where “mobile computing and digitisation are radically altering our lives” has to be reflected in the motor industry, said Winterkorn.

In the world of smartphones and mobile internet, car firms are recognising the majority of consumers want their cars to be as easy to upgrade as their mobiles.

However, while electronic dashboards may be able to be upgraded remotely like a phone app, shorter lifecycles and greater variety of model offerings will alwatys prove a challenge to the car giants, even one as large as VW Group. It’s going to be an interesting time for the motor trade - and one of its largest players - if Winterkorn’s vision of the future comes to pass.

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