Mindset | 11/7/2017
The sum of our know-how
Interview: Tom Volpe
He’s been setting the technical tone in Ingolstadt for the past ten weeks – Dr. Peter Mertens. The new Board Member for Technical Development holds a PhD in production technology, enjoys spending time in the countryside and loves classic cars. At Audi, he is now shaping momentous times, as he tells us in an interview.
Herr Dr. Mertens, Audi is presenting the new A8 at the Audi Summit. Why would you buy it?
Dr. Mertens: The car looks absolutely stunning, don’t you think? But above all, it’s equipped with the very best technology. It’s the kind of car you just want to have.
The A8 is the flagship. So where does it demonstrate the much-vaunted “Vorsprung durch Technik”?
Dr. Mertens: Simply put, this car is packed with everything we can do on a technical level. And it also provides a glimpse into the future of Audi. Let me give a couple of examples. The parking pilot parks the car completely on its own. While driving, the new sensors identify potholes and unevenness on the road ahead; the active suspension then dampens the car so precisely that it’s like riding on air. The operating concept is completely new, too – with large-format displays that are intuitive to use. And, over time, we’ll be putting even more future technology into the car.
Are you referring to the traffic jam pilot?
Dr. Mertens: Exactly. It’s a key technology for us. As soon as the laws in our core markets permit highly automated driving on highways – with full legal clarity – we’ll offer the traffic jam pilot in the A8. Then the driver will be able to do something else, like surf the internet, and take his hands from the wheel altogether. What’s important, however, is that he remains “aware”. The A8 is already equipped with the sensors and control units for the traffic jam pilot. We basically just have to activate them.
Do you think we’ll eventually also see “robot taxis” with the four rings?
Dr. Mertens: In the long term, highly automated driving also has a lot of potential in cities. However, the traffic is more complex there. Robot taxis could fill the gaps in local public transport, possibly even within the next decade. The first thing we’re likely to experience, though, is cars without steering wheels and pedals on restricted, short routes.
How do you go about developing such a “robot car”?
Dr. Mertens: The technical basis is self-driving systems and we’ve established a company to handle that, Autonomous Intelligent Driving GmbH. It works for the Volkswagen Group and is an open platform. Partners from the automotive and IT sectors are more than welcome to participate.
Let’s leave the distant future and come back to the present. You’ve been with Audi for two-and-a-half months now. What do you think
Dr. Mertens: What I’m finding here is a highly motivated team with an unbelievable amount of ideas. The team spirit is impressive. Despite, or perhaps because of, the diesel issue, many of the engineers have adopted the attitude: Let’s get on with it! They want to show the public what they can do, how much inventive spirit the brand has and how much advanced thinking.
You’ve worked in Asia, in several European countries and in the USA. You’re quite the Mr. International. But now you’re in Ingolstadt. Sounds a bit down-to-earth …
Dr. Mertens: It’s a very international environment here, too. Our development team alone comes from more than 20 nations. Plus, we’re very closely networked with Volkswagen and our sister brands all over the world. I myself spend a lot of time in the USA and China, which are key markets for us.
What are your most pressing topics?
Dr. Mertens: We’re undergoing a massive renewal of our product lineup. By mid-2018, we’ll have updated five of our core model ranges – we’re working really hard on that. The A8 marks the start and will be followed shortly by the A7. The five-door, full-size coupe is absolutely gorgeous, and celebrates its premiere in the fourth quarter. Then the successor to the Audi Q3 is scheduled for 2018.
Can we also expect completely new models?
Dr. Mertens: Yes, the first is the Audi Q8. It’s a mix between a coupe and an SUV and is likewise scheduled for 2018. It will be followed a year later, in 2019, by the Q4. This is new territory for us that takes us into the compact utility segment. And in parallel with the two Q models, we’ll be starting with the Audi e-tron – which is the first all-electric Audi, due in 2018.
The e-tron is an SUV and absolutely suitable for everyday use. It has a range of 500 kilometers and offers a totally unique driving experience.
Dr. Peter Mertens
Are you certain that the electric Audi will “fly” with customers?
Dr. Mertens: Definitely. The e-tron is an SUV and absolutely suitable for everyday use. It has a range of more than 500 kilometers and offers a totally unique driving experience. None of the competitors can offer that. Customers are going to love the e-tron, I’m completely certain of it. And it’ll get a brother in 2019 – the e-tron Sportback, a fastback model with a higher seating position. And we’ll be building an electric model for the compact segment, too. That’ll appear in 2020.
So, you’re going big on electrification.
Dr. Mertens: We anticipate a high demand for all-electric cars between 2020 and 2023. We want to meet that with our e-tron models. In addition to that, we’ll start electrifying one model in each of our core model ranges as of 2021. All of this is aimed at our long-term target, which is for the future of mobility to have zero emissions. To achieve that, we have to address the infrastructure. We want to install charging stations for rapid charging – with up to 350 kW – along Europe’s main traffic arteries. We’re pursuing this in a joint venture with Volkswagen and Porsche, and we also want to involve BMW, Daimler and Ford. And when it comes to climate protection, we shouldn’t forget to mention our g-tron models …
Do you really find gas-powered cars sexy?
Dr. Mertens: It’s quite straightforward – our g-trons are just as much fun to drive as any other Audi. Plus, they’re extremely clean. Our synthetic Audi e-gas reduces their CO2 emissions by an amazing 80 percent! So, we’re making our customers an offer – we’re refunding every g-tron buyer with the added cost of clean Audi e-gas for a period of three years. Then you’ll see how easy it is to move over to g-tron or e-tron.
So, from a long-term perspective, has the classic internal combustion engine outlived its usefulness?
Dr. Mertens: We’ll still need it for the next decade. We’re still developing our successful TFSI and TDI engines. Until 2025, there will be at least one model in each of our ranges equipped with an internal combustion engine, also in mild hybrid configurations. This lowers fuel consumption by up to one liter per 100 kilometers.
Everyone’s talking about digitalization. How will you address the needs of customers who have a strong digital affinity?
Dr. Mertens: Our customers want to bring their modern lives into their cars, too, which is why, in the foreseeable future, Audi connect will be part of standard equipment. We’re working on the basis of function-on-demand, which gives the customer full freedom.
You’ll have to explain that in more detail.
Dr. Mertens: Customers only pay for some of the functions when they use them – hardware or software. Take the matrix function for the LED headlights, for instance. This is installed in the car, but not initially activated. However, ahead of a long night drive, you can digitally activate this feature retrospectively when it suits you. We call this function-on-demand. For the customer, its means more flexibility, more individuality. His Audi is a constant source of surprises.
Your professional life focuses very much on the technical future. How do you switch off?
Dr. Mertens: I beam myself into the past (laughs). My oldest son and I like to work on our classic cars. It’s a great way to switch off and it’s also good for family life.
How big is your classic collection? Do you also have an old Audi?
Dr. Mertens: It’s a small, select collection. I have cars like a Mercedes SL, an Opel GT and a Volvo P1800 ES. And motorbikes, too – including a DKW 175.
Are there any classics from our company on your wish list?
Dr. Mertens: I like the combination of elegant looks with clever technology – like in the NSU TTS. It’s a fantastic car. That’s the next one I’d like to buy. But right now, I really don’t have the time to work on classic cars. Basically, I think old cars are for working on and enjoying, i.e. driving.
To round off this conversation – what do you wish for Audi?
Dr. Mertens: Very definitely – we all have to think even more consistently from the customer perspective. That means we’ll have to put to one side some things that have become dear to us. That’s creates space for ideas and allows new things to flourish. Our cars and the products we offer will thrill people even more. A true Audi stands for innovative spirit and amazing fun on the road. That was the case yesterday, it is today and it will be tomorrow, too.
Fuel consumption of the model named above:
Audi A8: Combined fuel consumption in l/100 km: 7.8 – 5.6 (30.2 – 42.0 US mpg); Combined CO2 emissions in g/km: 178 – 145 (286.5 – 233.4 g/mi)
Audi A4 Avant g-tron: CNG consumption in kg/100 km: 4.4 – 3.8, Combined fuel consumption in l/100 km: 6.5 – 5.4; Combined CO2 emissions in g/km (CNG): 117 – 100, Combined CO2 emissions in g/km: 147 – 124