Since the Volkswagen Group was focused on its goal of becoming world number one by 2018, it seemed to be steering clear of digital technology. Its only technological development was a partnership with MirrorLink, a system giving drivers access to Android smartphone screens via car navigation screens and dashboard/steering-wheel buttons. It is currently launching this innovation in its new models. Volkswagen is discretely building up its position. “Although we’re not always the leader in conceptual innovations, when we put a product on the market, it is the best,” explains Jacques Rivoal, CEO of Volkswagen Group France.
Volkswagen decided to tackle digital technology via its Future Tracks plan. This post-2018 strategic move makes connected and autonomous cars a major priority. “Cars and computers were the 20th century’s two major inventions. The challenge for the 21st century will be combining the two”, adds Rivoal. Volkswagen’s strength lies in its sound financial situation and innovation laboratory, called Audi. Although Volkswagen only attended the CES for the first time this year, Audi has been exhibiting for several years now. Audi already has several autonomous vehicles, including an RS7, which was driven on a racetrack in October 2014 at over 200 km/h. “For the past three years, driver assistance systems have been the first step towards autonomous cars,” explains Benoît Tiers, managing director of Audi France. “From 2016 onwards, the new A8 will drive autonomously in many conditions.” Although this technology is very expensive, Audi’s leading position means it can afford it. These technological advances will then be used in Volkwagen’s other cars.
Volkswagen is increasingly focused on the human-machine interface. Take the Golf R Touch, for example, with its futuristic interior equipped with three screens on the dashboard, a gesture-based interface, and movement sensor. “Volkswagen is providing drivers with more intuitiveness and has gone a step further than a basic connection between cars and smartphones,” says Heinz-Jakob Neusser, member of the Volkswagen AG’s board of directors and in charge of development. Nevertheless, the new CarPlay and Android Auto media platform will first be used on Audi’s new Q7 at the end of 2015. “The car will become an internet platform. This is our business model,” says Tiers in conclusion. He brushes aside the GAFA’s criticism of its methods for capturing customer relations and hence added value. “New uses in the car industry are being developed, but we control vehicle information and this belongs to our drivers,” he says.