Audi A8 won't bring Traffic Jam Pilot this generation, automaker to focus on improving Level 2 self-driving

Audi has called off plans to introduce its Level 3 autonomous driving capabilities in the A8 flagship sedan, a company executive has told Automotive News Europe.

Traffic Jam Pilot was initially slated for introduction with the current-generation A8 that made its debut in 2017, pitched as a world-first in enabling the vehicle’s driver to take their hands off the steering wheel completely, and where regulations permit, move their attention to a different activity supported by the car, such as watching TV onboard.

Since Audi’s flagship made its debut almost three years ago, global regulators have yet to agree on a type approval process for even the most basic Level 3 self-driving functionality, Automotive News Europe reported. The German automaker won’t have sufficient time to debut the system in the current-generation A8 with the regulatory delays, as its facelifted version is due to arrive next year, it said.

“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,” Audi technical development chief Hans-Joachim Rothenpieler told the news outlet.

Problems were faced when getting approval for the Traffic Jam Pilot function, which would transfer liability from the driver to the manufacturer in the event of an accident, said Rothenpieler. “Currently, 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,” he said.

All other production vehicles have up to Level 2 functionality for self-driving, which aids in the vehicle’s movements but still requires the driver to have control of the vehicle at all times. For a detailed run-down of what the various levels constitute, check out our feature, here.

Corporate lawyers in particular have been critical of any Level 3 autonomous driving system, sources close to Audi have told Automotive News Europe, and the lawyers have warned Audi executives that there is no guarantee that its customers would properly service the vehicle, and that Audi would still be liable should an incident occur even if the system was 99.9% safe at the time it was delivered to the customer, sources said.

Audi has now redirected its focus towards improving Level 2 autonomous driving assistance systems that do not transfer any legal responsibility for the vehicle’s operation to the manufacturer at all, and Rothenpieler conceded that there are still significant obstacles en route to even limited, eye-off conditional autonomy, adding that “the euphoria in the auto industry around Level 3 has subsided substantially.”

Further afield, Volvo considers Level 3 self-driving in particular to be ‘unsafe’, and it will skip this level of autonomous driving, CEO Hakan Samuelsson said. On the other hand, Samuelsson also said in 2015 that Volvo will ‘accept full liability’ for incidents that occur when its cars are in autonomous mode.

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