Perhaps it's for the best.
When the latest generation Audi A8 luxury sedan debuted back in 2017 at the Frankfurt Motor Show, company executives were quick to highlight its most advanced feature, Traffic Jam Pilot. This Level 3 autonomous driving system was considered to be a technological breakthrough because drivers would be able to take their eyes off the road under certain circumstances when the system was engaged. Despite the countless hours of time invested and money spent, Audi has ultimately decided to abandon plans to give the A8 Level 3 autonomy.
Automotive News Europe has confirmed with Audi's Technical Development chief, Hans-Joachim Rothenpieler, that Traffic Jam Pilot will not appear in the facelifted A8 that was planned for next year. The reason has nothing to do with the coronavirus pandemic forcing automakers to shut down, but rather regulatory delays that won't give Audi enough time to make the system compliant in the vehicle.
"We will not see the Traffic Jam Pilot on the road with its originally planned Level 3 functionality in the current model generation of the Audi A8 because our luxury sedan has already gone through a substantial part of its model life cycle."
The Level 3 autonomous driving is a major step towards full self-driving, rated at Level 5, and Audi was hoping the refreshed A8 would be the first production car to be equipped with Level 3 for private customers. Currently, other luxury vehicles offer Level 2 autonomy, which still requires drivers to remain in control but provides assistance when danger is detected. For reference, GM's Super Cruise and Tesla's Autopilot are Level 2.
Audi's decision could be a setback because it now might fall behind its two main domestic rivals.
The next-generation Mercedes-Benz S-Class, slated to debut later this year, and the 2021 BMW iNext all-electric crossover will supposedly offer Level 3 automated driving. However, Audi's regulatory problem could spread to them as well.
According to Rothenpieler, "There is no legal framework for Level 3 automated driving and it is not possible to homologate such functions anywhere in the world in a series production car." Not surprisingly, Audi's lawyers are concerned about the Level 3 system because customers may not know how to properly use it. Just look at Tesla's numerous problems and lawsuits regarding Autopilot. Audi's legal team pointed out that if an accident occurred while Traffic Jam Pilot was engaged, Audi would still be liable even if testing proved the system to be 99.9 percent safe.
"The euphoria in the auto industry around Level 3 has subsided substantially," Rothenpieler summed up.