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2016-08-19

Digital push from German giants



The likes of Audi, Mercedes and Porsche are ramping up electric, autonomous and connected efforts

Major German manufacturers are lining up for an increasingly electrified future with a number of announcements over the past few days showing a shift towards a digital focus. The likes of Audi, Porsche and Mercedes have all revealed plans that are set to make digital aspects of the business more important than ever before.
Audi has already been confirmed as the leading VW Group brand when it comes to developing electric and hydrogen powertrains. Its driverless technology responsibilities though have taken another step forward with the news that the German manufacturer has set up a new subsidiary company specifically to deal with autonomous and connected systems.
Called SDS Company, the arm will develop an autonomous car for production, with systems based on the already advanced Audi Piloted Driving project.
Reuters reports that Audi CEO Rupert Stadler said: "This is about a robot car that may not even need a steering wheel or pedals, so it's ideal for urban traffic," he said, adding Audi was still looking for joint venture partners who would help with the technology.
The increased focus on digital systems is likely to see a trade-off in cost reductions elsewhere. Stadler continued saying: "We have discussed what would happen if we dropped the two-door version of the A3. I think we would barely lose any customers. We'd rather invest the money that is freed up in new models and other derivatives."
The news comes on the back of further information regarding Audi's planned electric vehicle push which aims to have three new electric models on sale by 2020, and for EVs to account for at least a quarter of sales by 2025.
Porsche, which is pushing ahead with its own electric car plans in the shape of the Mission E super-saloon, has announced that it will employ more than 1,400 new people to work on its new EV. A Porsche statement says: "The company plans to recruit experts in the fields of digitalisation, e-mobility, smart mobility and vehicle connectivity."
"One can in fact describe what is going on now as a 'war for talents'", says Andreas Haffner, Member of the Executive Board for Human Resources and Social Affairs at Porsche AG. "We are in direct competition with other automakers and suppliers and IT firms in our global search for talented experts."
Meanwhile Mercedes Benz's parent company Daimler, has announced that it plans to invest "total volume (in R&D) significantly above the previous year's spending of 6.6 billion". Although this is spread across all R&D projects including next generation models in the compact and SUV sectors, the statement also revealed significant sums will be spent in advanced digital technologies.
Chairman Dieter Zetsche said: "Daimler is investing in the automotive divisions in new, low-emission and fuel-efficient engines, alternative drive systems, autonomous driving, a new battery generation and the connected and digital user interface."
Daimler has also invested a 60 per cent stake in British ride-hailing company Hailo, and will combine the app-based taxi service with its existing mytaxi brand. The two companies together now represent the largest taxi e-hailing service in Europe.
Mobility services including ride-hailing and car sharing are seen by many industry experts as crucial aspects of automotive businesses in the future, with the model of car ownership becoming far less important to users. A number of firms including BMW and Volvo have a car sharing service, while a number of the American manufactures have invested in similar business models in the past year or so too.