Audi first at taking consumers beyond the Model T suspension? Short Tesla?

Philip Greenspun's Weblog 2017-07-13

The new 2019 Audi A8 (Car and Driver and also official press release) is on track to be the first production car with an active suspension (explanatory video), which would be the first real innovation in this area since 1906 (history). In addition to a smooth ride over bumps, active suspension will improve the vehicle’s handling (important when you’re going 15 mph in traffic?) and will also lift up the side of the car so that the floor structure absorbs impact from a side collision rather than simply the doors.

The other claimed innovation is that the Audi will drive itself in traffic jams up to roughly 37 mph. (But don’t Teslas already do this? Audi says “The new A8 is the first production automobile to have been developed specially for highly automated driving.” Why aren’t the Teslas the first?)

What characterizes driving in the U.S.?

Isn’t this Audi then the perfect car for us? The active suspension will help us glide unaware over the potholes. The autopilot will let us watch Amazon Prime Video during our 5 mph 2-hour freeway commutes. (I still like my Personal solution to traffic jams: Motorhome and Driver, though of course to match evolving standards of polite discourse that 2006 posting should be revised from “illegal immigrant” to “undocumented immigrant”.)

Is it time to short Tesla? It should be easier for Audi to buy a Chinese battery and Siemens motor and stuff those into their cars than for Tesla to match this kind of suspension technology that can completely change the driving experience. (Though active suspension historically requires a huge amount of power and therefore it might not be compatible with a pure electric vehicle. ClearMotion is a Boston-area company that tries to recover some of this energy when a vehicle hits a bump.) Audi already has three electric models coming out within the next three years (electrek).

With the exception of Tesla, U.S. car companies were never leaders in engineering or innovation, right? Why isn’t the 1995 car market the best estimate of what the car market will look like in 2025? In that case, the engineering/innovation leaders will be German and Japanese while American brands will churn out cars that are cheaper and 5-10 years out of date in terms of engineering. That’s a problem for Tesla, which sells a premium-priced product based on advanced engineering. If the argument is “a modern car is all about software and Americans have been leaders in software,” what stops Audi, Honda, and other engineering leaders from buying American software and/or setting up software development labs in the U.S.? Even if software is critical to a modern car it is still a small portion of the cost, right?

Readers: What do you think? Is this new Audi A8 a techno tour de force? If so, does that spell trouble for Tesla?