The recent Audi global press conference at the company’s Ingolstadt headquarters marked the first time CarAdvice has heard a member of the VW Group’s senior team use the term ‘dieselgate’.
It was at the same time, however, that Dr Stefan Knirsch, the man responsible for Audi technical development and a member of the Board Of Management for Audi AG, said that the company’s research and development budget had in fact increased since the emissions scandal broke.
“Yes our R&D budget has increased since then. Approximately by five percent, I would say. We are aware as a company that we have to spend money on new technology,” Knirsch said.
“That includes something like the hydrogen fuel cell for example and we will never harm our future. We didn’t have to compromise any existing projects due to dieselgate.”
Knirsch went on to explain that the roll out of hydrogen would depend largely on the infrastructure.
“Bringing the vehicle to market isn’t so far away in terms of the vehicle development,” he said. “It is the infrastructure that will hold us back.
“We won’t bring a vehicle to market unless the infrastructure can support owners using the vehicle. We don’t want our owners compromised.”
Knirsch is adamant that even in areas where hydrogen is more accessible, like Germany or the United States, the network is still too far away from the kind of widespread coverage the market needs for Audi to embrace it.
“It is also true that hydrogen-powered vehicles are still currently expensive to build because the scale effects of volume haven’t yet come into play either,” he added.
Audi isn’t giving up on hybrid systems just yet, though.
“The cost of a mild hybrid vehicle will definitely decrease with scale,” Knirsch said. “All OEMs have to fulfil ever-tougher CO2 targets from 2020 onwards. In Europe, China and the US, those targets are very severe and mild hybrids will be part of helping to achieve those targets.”
Knirsch likes the fact that hydrogen-powered vehicles can offer customers a ‘conventional’ ownership experience. “Hydrogen offers an experience like the cars of today in many ways,” Knirsch said. “Refuelling takes only a few minutes, the vehicles have a 600km range, and they are lighter as well.
“Remember too, that in the future, electric vehicles won’t be classed as zero emissions vehicles like they are now either.”
Part of Audi’s immediate research and development future is autonomous driving. As such, the German brand is spending large chunks of money on working out this new technology.
“We have a huge team working on autonomous driving,” Knirsch said.
“We have leadership within the VW Group for this technology and we’ve been working on it since 2009. We now have the platform in Germany for high density maps and real time mapping as well, which are both crucial for autonomous driving.”