Weekly Brief: Audi shy of risking Level 3 autonomy in US

The 2019 Audi A8 with Traffic Jam Pilot will debut in Europe as promised but Americans have to wait for now. Andrew Tolve reports.

The world’s first mass-market car with a Level 3 automated driving system is set to debut in the new 2019 Audi A8 saloon with the carmaker announcing last week that the car will cost $83,000 (£61,597) when it trundles onto dealership lots this autumn in Europe. It will come with built-in LiDAR, a front camera and ultrasonic sensors that allows the car to travel autonomously up to 37.3 mph on highways, without requiring the driver to touch the steering wheel or pay attention to the road until the system alerts them. The feature is called Traffic Jam Pilot and, if Audi’s bluster is to be believed, will make rivals like Tesla’s Autopilot, Cadillac’s Super Cruise and Mercedes-Benz’s Intelligent Drive blush by comparison.

Americans excited about the system, however, are out of luck. At the eleventh hour, Audi decided not to bring Traffic Jam Pilot to the American market. With all the start-up energy seeping out of Silicon Valley and the rush to keep up from traditional automakers, the US has become the epicentre for self-driving pilots, trials and fully commercialised services. Yet Audi decided that the lack of a unified federal policy around self-driving tech combined with several well-publicised mishaps from the likes of Tesla and Uber in recent months, have created an environment in the US too risky to be played with. Then again, the A8 destined for the American market will include a Level 2 adaptive cruise control just like Tesla’s Autopilot. It seems the automaker decided it was better to be part of a controversial crowd rather than a stand-alone target at the top.

In other news, Nissan is entering the solar panel and home battery business in the UK. Through its new offering Nissan Energy Solar, the company will offer an all-in-one system for home energy generation, management and storage that enables homeowners to save on electricity bills and power their electric vehicles while they’re at it. Nissan Energy Solar packages start at £3,881.

Acura has begun manufacturing its new crossover SUV, the 2019 Acura RDX, with an infotainment system that drops a touchscreen in favour of a touchpad – like the trackpad you use to control your laptop. The True Touchpad is actually two touchpads that sit just below the gear selector and allow drivers to control the infotainment screen, from navigation to media, with simple swipes or taps of their fingers without ever averting their eyes from the road. The big three German carmakers, Mercedes-Benz,Audi and BMW, are also experimenting with touchpad controls to minimise driver distraction.

Volkswagen revealed that it’s outfitting its new flagship SUV, the Touareg, with the company’s first ever heads-up display, which projects images from the infotainment screen directly onto the windshield. The Touareg will also be the first VW to include its new Night Vision assist system, which uses a thermal image camera integrated at the front of the car to detect people or animals on the road and warns the driver of their presence.

BMW’s ReachNow car-sharing service is coming to Intel’s four campuses in Portland, Oregon. With dedicated parking spaces near major entrances on each Intel campus, ReachNow’s shared fleet of BMW and MINI vehicles will be accessible to nearly 20,000 Intel employees and contractors, to improve mobility options on the west side of the Portland-metro region. ReachNow already serves about 40 square miles of the greater Portland area.

Finally, MINI launched the MINI Sharing app, which lets MINI owners grant friends, family members or colleagues permission to open and start their vehicle via a smartphone. MINI plans to test the app in Madrid with a peer-to-peer sharing trial designed for a fleet of up to 500 vehicles. Owners of current MINI models produced since March 2018 will be invited to participate, and their vehicle will be equipped or retrofitted with a MINI Sharing Module that enables access and engine start via smartphone. MINI hopes to use the data from the trial to take the app global.

The Weekly Brief is a round-up of the week’s top telematics news, combining TU-Automotive analysis with information from industry sources.