Protecting user data could be the best car sales pitch


Sitting revving up the new Audi RS 3 Sportback on the start line of the Shelsley Walsh Hill Climb, I couldn’t help but think Audi’s CEO Rupert Stadler wasn’t referring to this particular monster hot-hatchback when he suggested technology will become more important than horsepower to his customers.

Because just a day after he made this suggestion to automotive and software executives in Berlin, I drove the world’s most powerful compact hatchback that boasts more than enough super-car beating horsepower to justify its UK on-the-road price tag of £39,995.

But Stadler’s main mission was to leave conference attending chairman of Google Eric Schmidt in no doubt over how Germany carmakers view the mining of their customers’ data. Bloomberg reported thathis stand is clear when he said: “The Internet, cookies and other data collectors are almost common courtesy but a car today is a second living room – and that’s private.”

Indeed, while the RS 3 can be specified with all the latest Audi connectivity for both infotainment and navigation, there’s no mention whatever of this in the press material which, as old-school petrol-heads will welcome, concentrates purely on performance figures.

These delicious figures include a five-cylinder 2.5 TFSI engine with quattro all-wheel-drive producing 367 horsepower and 465Nm of torque to fire the little fire-breather to 62mph in just 4.3 seconds on the way to an optionally unrestricted top speed of 174mph.

Yet driver technology, with Comfort, Auto or Dynamic drive settings, means this car can be the perfectly docile urban run-about to ferry your elderly relative down to the shops. The Sportback is a properly ‘sensible’ car able to boast useable boot space of 280-litres swelling to 1,120 with the rear seats folded and claiming a fuel economy of 25.2mpg and C02 emissions of just 189g/km.

Even the suspension is surprisingly compliant on rough UK roads in Comfort mode as I found out on a two-hour drive through the beautiful Cotswolds on the way to the world’s oldest hill climb course.

At Shelsley Walsh with all settings firmly locked on sport, I may not have rivalled icon Audi rally star Hannu Mikkola’s time of 29.51 seconds set in 1986 in his 2.1-litre Audi quattro, but even in my amateur hands the RS 3 was able to clock a respectable time of 35 seconds without scaring the marshals too much.

It was only after all the dust had settled that Stadler’s comments about the living room come back into focus because, let’s face it, any owner of this sort of sports car will not want details of acceleration, braking or corning G-force going any further than the car’s dashboard. He or she would certainly not want an Internet behemoth able to access that sort of private data and ping it up into the Cloud for all to see!

We are, after all, humans and not robots and, as such, apt to breech the rules on occasions where we deem it necessary or even just pleasurable.

And it’s the acceptance of this simple reality that the German car manufacturers can use to help sell their vehicles in the coming years in a world where transport becomes increasingly monitored and controlled.

As Stadler added: “Customers want to be at the centre…” of their car-ownership “…and not exploited for it. They want to be in control of their data and not subject to monitoring. And we take this seriously.”

You can hear it, can’t you? That’s the collective applause of the world’s petrol-heads!

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