Audi first at taking consumers beyond the Model T suspension? Short Tesla?

The new 2019 Audi A8 (Car and Driver and also official press release) is on track to be the first production car with an active suspension (explanatory video), which would be the first real innovation in this area since 1906 (history). In addition to a smooth ride over bumps, active suspension will improve the vehicle’s handling (important when you’re going 15 mph in traffic?) and will also lift up the side of the car so that the floor structure absorbs impact from a side collision rather than simply the doors.

The other claimed innovation is that the Audi will drive itself in traffic jams up to roughly 37 mph. (But don’t Teslas already do this? Audi says “The new A8 is the first production automobile to have been developed specially for highly automated driving.” Why aren’t the Teslas the first?)

What characterizes driving in the U.S.?

Isn’t this Audi then the perfect car for us? The active suspension will help us glide unaware over the potholes. The autopilot will let us watch Amazon Prime Video during our 5 mph 2-hour freeway commutes. (I still like my Personal solution to traffic jams: Motorhome and Driver, though of course to match evolving standards of polite discourse that 2006 posting should be revised from “illegal immigrant” to “undocumented immigrant”.)

Is it time to short Tesla? It should be easier for Audi to buy a Chinese battery and Siemens motor and stuff those into their cars than for Tesla to match this kind of suspension technology that can completely change the driving experience. (Though active suspension historically requires a huge amount of power and therefore it might not be compatible with a pure electric vehicle. ClearMotion is a Boston-area company that tries to recover some of this energy when a vehicle hits a bump.) Audi already has three electric models coming out within the next three years (electrek).

With the exception of Tesla, U.S. car companies were never leaders in engineering or innovation, right? Why isn’t the 1995 car market the best estimate of what the car market will look like in 2025? In that case, the engineering/innovation leaders will be German and Japanese while American brands will churn out cars that are cheaper and 5-10 years out of date in terms of engineering. That’s a problem for Tesla, which sells a premium-priced product based on advanced engineering. If the argument is “a modern car is all about software and Americans have been leaders in software,” what stops Audi, Honda, and other engineering leaders from buying American software and/or setting up software development labs in the U.S.? Even if software is critical to a modern car it is still a small portion of the cost, right?

Readers: What do you think? Is this new Audi A8 a techno tour de force? If so, does that spell trouble for Tesla?

[Inspiration to get the extended warranty. A friend’s recent Facebook post:

We’ve got a 2008 Audi A3. Low mileage (33k, give or take), but now with a dead high-beam on one side. Turns out, this isn’t just a replace-the-bulb and you’re good sort of repair. Nope, have to replace the whole damn assembly, $1500 part plus labor, and we’re talking about a car which is maybe worth $8000. … Repair or trade in / upgrade?

]

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9 Comments »

  1. Fazal Majid

    July 13, 2017 @ 3:00 pm

    1

    Not innovative at all. Citroën had hydropneumatic suspension since the 1955 DS and added active suspension in the mid-nineties. It works very well, but can be expensive to maintain.

  2. J. Peterson

    July 13, 2017 @ 3:21 pm

    2

    While shopping for cars a couple months ago, I discovered the freeway traffic-jam autopilot is standard equipment on upper trim levels of many cars (Toyota, Honda, BMW, etc.). My new Civic (less than $30K) has it.

    I suspect they’re all licensing it from the Israeli company Mobileye or at least started with their code and started tweaking it on their own (Tesla’s approach).

  3. philg

    July 13, 2017 @ 3:33 pm

    3

    Fazal: I’m familiar with https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydropneumatic_suspension but I don’t understand how that qualifies as “active” in the sense that it would lift up a tire before hitting a speed bump. Isn’t that Citroen system more equivalent to variable-rate shock absorbers with a ride height adjustment?

    Do you have a URL to share that describes what Citroen did in the 1990s?

  4. toucan sam

    July 13, 2017 @ 9:11 pm

    4

    Hi Phil,

    Here is another new suspension idea which and has been invented by mclaren. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8AVBddY8ClM Maybe you should buy a mclaren car instead of a boring minivan.

  5. the other Donald

    July 13, 2017 @ 10:32 pm

    5

    The new Audi has so many high tech features that it will probably be in the shop more than on the road. And helicopters are probably less expensive to repair.

    https://arstechnica.com/cars/2017/07/meet-audis-new-tech-flagship-the-2018-a8-sedan/

  6. pirlo

    July 14, 2017 @ 3:19 am

    6

    You should read the whole wikipedia article. At some point il describes citroen hydractive suspensions too.

  7. philg

    July 14, 2017 @ 10:11 am

    7

    pirlo: I saw that, but is it comparable to a system that looks at the road and adjusts pothole-by-pothole? I think that is what the Audi is doing with the camera under the nose of the car. The Citroen system can only sense a pothole once the wheel begins to fall into it, right?

  8. james

    July 14, 2017 @ 5:57 pm

    8

    The record of consistent failure by car companies to bring their EV concepts to market indicates that it’s harder than it looks. Audi began showing the e-tron EV in 2009 and every attempt to even bring it into limited production failed (there were at least three different cars, each less ambitious than the last). They eventually used the ‘e-tron’ brand for hybrids. Other companies have similarly failed to bring EVs to market or have done so only in very limited numbers.

  9. Jackie

    July 14, 2017 @ 11:56 pm

    9

    Audis are definitely money pits if you have the dealer maintain them. I would wager any amount of money that a solution costing much less than $1,500 could be improvised for the defective headlight. Best case it’s just a corroded contact that needs to be sanded. Absolute worst case you could source an aftermarket or used headlight for much less than half of what the dealer is asking.

    Tell your friend that if he wants to keep a 9 yr old Audi on the road without bankrupting himself he needs to (1) learn basic electrical repairs (cars are 12V – you can’t even get a shock) and (2) find an independent mechanic and (3) learn how to source parts on ebay and Amazon and (4) never set foot in the dealer’s service dept. again.

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