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Auto makers at a watershed

Automotive brands find themselves at a fascinating watershed in society’s evolution. As is typical of periods of dramatic change, this presents many opportunities and new innovations that communicate with their customers, says TREVOR HILL, Head of Audi SA.

Vehicle manufacturers have had to innovate in developing more integrated mobility solutions and invest heavily in technology and innovation across the entire automotive value chain. These new innovations form part of the digital revolution within the automotive industry.

As a global, premium and innovative automotive brand, Audi‘s digitalisation journey can be found in many areas of the business. The application of artificial intelligence opens up a new dimension of performance for both the product and the entire value chain. As a digital car company, Audi is digitising all processes at the company: from product development with virtual reality; creating a factory environment with intelligent robots and to retail showrooms with the latest digital technology.

Since 2003, Audi has been using virtually created 3D models as a firm element of its vehicle development process. The company is now also testing a so-called virtual reality holodeck so that the design of new automobile models can be virtually assessed at an early stage. With the VR holodeck, a realistic impression of the proportions of future Audi models is obtained and allows employees from development and production to virtually assess the structure of a vehicle before it goes into production.

Additional areas in which virtual-reality technologies are already applied at Audi include virtual training for employees in packing logistics and the Audi VR experience for customer advice. The latter allows potential customers to virtually configure their desired car and to experience all optional equipment in a realistic way.

These digital advancements have presented an exciting time for automotive companies who are prepared to rise to the challenge within the retail environment.

The process of purchasing a car, for instance, needs to be completely re-evaluated. The old ways of driving out to a showroom on the edge of town to ask a Dealer for his advice are numbered.  Today, thanks to the internet, we can all educate ourselves about our options, our price range and our preferences before we even set foot into a Dealer showroom. The average customer is quite knowledgeable by the time he or she meets a sales person for the first time.

The role of company staff has thus changed from being providers of information, to being brand experience custodians.

At Audi, we know that when customers come to us, they already have som experience of our brand. Now they’re looking for a heightened level of engagement with us. They want to feel and live the brand.  We learned some years ago that this can mean a lot more than going for a test drive around the block. An example of this is the Audi City showrooms or the Audi Customer Private Lounge concept.

These showrooms, currently in London, Beijing, Berlin, Paris, Moscow and Istanbul, are interactive experiences that reinvent how a customer goes about buying a car. The virtual, digital nature of these showrooms means that they can be located in the heart of central business districts, where space is at a premium, and can recreate every one of the hundreds of millions of designs combinations which Audi offers, as the client customises the car of his or her choice.

Floor-to-ceiling screens – called powerwalls – produce an immersive experience as the customer creates the Audi of their dreams in photo-real detail, selecting the model variant and every specific detail with the assistance of an Audi professional.  Whether you want an Audi A5 with Java Brown paintwork, leather upholstery and red stitching, or a Vegas Yellow Audi Q2 with stylish wheels, you can create your dream vehicle on a tablet device, and then see it projected before your eyes.

Test drives can be arranged for a later date, but the power of the virtual brand experience is such, that a significant percentage of customers already choose to purchase their Audis without ever having driven a test vehicle!

At the Berlin showroom, we find that customers spend on average of 25% more on their purchases of Audi cars, as the showroom brings their custom specifications to life. The digital showroom concept has already been integrated into many of the Dealerships worldwide.

The idea is to move towards seamlessly integrated automotive shopping, buying and owning – across whichever channel the customer prefers. This all serves to enhance the brand experience, which has now been effectively separated or used to support the physical brick-and-mortar terminal.

The traditional Audi Dealership will also evolve and expand on as the brand prepares itself for the introduction of fully electric vehicles under the Audi e-tron umbrella. Dealerships would need to accommodate for charging station infrastructure and the subsequent storage facilities for the vehicles.

The rise of the sharing economy has seen an increase in ride-hailing and car-sharing services, which means – among other things – that fewer customers are feeling the need to own a car. Automotive manufacturers like Audi are also looking beyond traditional ownership models, and investing in “shared mobility” alternatives, what we term as Audi On Demand. In the future, the success of our companies will be measured in “kilometres travelled” as opposed to “vehicles sold”.

The digital revolution is tangible at Audi. For us, Vorsprung goes far beyond the car. With everything we do, we want to make our customers’ lives easier. We give them time, connect them with their environment, and offer them sustainable solutions and unique experiences.

Cars

Jaguar Land Rover and BMW team up for electric tech

The collaboration seeks to advance consumer adoption of electric vehicle technology.

Jaguar Land Rover and BMW Group are joining forces to develop next generation Electric Drive Units (EDUs) in a move that will support the advancement of electrification technologies, a central part of the automotive industry’s transition to an ACES (Autonomous, Connected, Electric, Shared) future.

The strategic collaboration will build on the considerable knowledge and expertise in electrification at both companies. Jaguar Land Rover has demonstrated its leading technical capability in bringing the world’s first premium battery electric SUV to market – the 2019 World Car of the Year, the Jaguar I-PACE, as well as plug-in hybrid models; and BMW Group bringing vast experience of developing and producing several generations of electric drive units in-house since it launched the BMW i3 in 2013. 

Nick Rogers, Jaguar Land Rover Engineering Director said: “The transition to ACES represents the greatest technological shift in the automotive industry in a generation. The pace of change and consumer interest in electrified vehicles is gathering real momentum and it’s essential we work across industry to advance the technologies required to deliver this exciting future. 

“We’ve proven we can build world beating electric cars but now we need to scale the technology to support the next generation of Jaguar and Land Rover products. It was clear from discussions with BMW Group that both companies’ requirements for next generation EDUs to support this transition have significant overlap making for a mutually beneficial collaboration.”

The agreement will enable both companies to take advantage of efficiencies arising from shared research and development and production planning as well as economies of scale from joint procurement across the supply chain.

A team of Jaguar Land Rover and BMW Group experts will engineer the EDUs with both partners developing the systems to deliver the specific characteristics required for their respective range of products. 

The EDUs will be manufactured by each partner in their own production facilities. For Jaguar Land Rover this will be at its Wolverhampton-based Engine Manufacturing Centre (EMC), which was confirmed as the home for the company’s global EDU production in January of this year. The plant, which employs 1600 people, will be the centre of propulsion system manufacturing offering full flexibility between clean Ingenium petrol and diesel engines and electric units. The EMC will be complemented by the recently announced Battery Assembly Centre at Hams Hall, near Birmingham, in supplying electrified powertrain systems to Jaguar Land Rover’s global vehicle plants.

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Sensory steering wheel lets drivers feel the heat

Jaguar Land Rover researches rapid heating and cooling of the steering wheel for use with turn-by-turn navigation.

A steering wheel developed by Jaguar Land Rover could help keep drivers’ eyes on the road – by using heat to tell drivers when to turn left or right.

The research, in partnership with Glasgow University, has created a ‘sensory steering wheel’, parts of which can be quickly heated and cooled to inform drivers where to turn, when to change lane or to warn of an approaching junction. This could be particularly useful when visibility is reduced through poor weather or the layout of the road.

The technology has also been applied to the gear-shift paddles to indicate when hand over from the driver to autonomous control in future self-driving vehicles is complete. 

Driver distraction is a major contributor to road accidents around the world and accounts for 10 per cent of all fatal crashes in the USA alone*. Jaguar Land Rover’s research suggests thermal cues could be a way to keep drivers fully focused on the road.

The cues work on both sides of the steering wheel, indicating the direction to turn by rapidly warming or cooling one side by a difference of up to 6°C. For comfort a driver could adjust the range of temperature change.

Studies have shown** temperature-based instructions could also be used for non-urgent notifications, where vibrations could be deemed unnecessarily attention grabbing, for example as a warning when fuel is running low, or for upcoming events, such as points of interest. Thermal cues can also be used where audio feedback would be deemed too disruptive to cabin conversations or media playback.

Alexandros Mouzakitis, Jaguar Land Rover Electrical Research Senior Manager, said:“Safety is a number one priority for Jaguar Land Rover and we are committed to continuously improving our vehicles with the latest technological developments as well as preparing the business for a self-driving future. 

“The ‘sensory steering wheel’ is all part of this vision, with thermal cues able to reduce the amount of time drivers have to take their eyes off the road. Research has shown people readily understand the heating and cooling dynamics to denote directions and the subtlety of temperature change can be perfect for certain feedback that doesn’t require a more intrusive audio or vibration-based cue.”

The Jaguar Land Rover-funded research is part of a PhD study undertaken by Patrizia Di Campli San Vito at Glasgow University as part of its Glasgow Interactive Systems Research Section (GIST). 

Jaguar and Land Rover models already boast a wide range of sophisticated Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) designed to improve driver and vehicle safety, including the new generation Head-Up Display in the Range Rover Velar. The Velar also features capacitive steering wheel controls for common functions that combine with the Interactive Driver Display to help reduce driver distraction.

https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.dot.gov/files/documents/812_381_distracteddriving2015.pdf

** http://eprints.gla.ac.uk/166314/1/166314.pdf

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