Audi forecasts high-end body materials and a blossoming of vehicle complexity

An announcement from Audi indicates that a number of upcoming models will use more advanced materials than ever before in a quest for lightweighting.

By Jeff Sanford

Toronto, Ontario — December 29, 2015 — Audi has announced plans for the year ahead, and those wondering about the future of the collision repair sector will find the company’s plans intriguing. According to a news release, Audi will lay the “foundations for future growth” in 2016 by investing more than €3 billion (about 4.5 billion CAD) in new technology initiatives.

The company recognizes the auto industry is changing rapidly. It is planning “high levels of investment” to stay in front of industry trends, among them exotic materials in car bodies and so-called connected car technologies. Interestingly, the company states it will not invest in a new wind tunnel. This is telling.

Many industry experts suggest savings from efficiencies in improvements in body shape and engine technology are at an end after decades of gains in those areas. Efficiencies in the autos are now going to come from “lightweighting” through advanced materials and technology. The Audi announcement seems confirmation of this.

According to the release half of the planned investment will take place in Germany. Some of the money will go toward adding experts in the field of future technologies.

“A significant proportion of our investment is naturally in the field of alternative drive systems,” said Audi CEO Rupert Staler. In 2018, the company will launch the first large-series battery-electric vehicle of the brand. Before that, however, there are big changes coming to its current fleet. The car producer plans to enter a new market segment with the Audi Q2 model next year. In addition, Audi will present the successor of the Audi Q5 SUV in 2016. Both of these cars will make greater use of aluminum and high-strength steel. It looks like the use of aluminum will be increased through many vehicles in the company’s line.

The German versions of the new Audi A4 and A4 Avant will weigh nearly 265 lbs. less than the current A4s as a result of increased use of aluminum, high-strength steel and even magnesium. This last metal is being used in major structures like the body and powertrain as well as the power steering system, brake pedal and carpet. The next-generation Q7, also announced in May, will also use more aluminum. The latest Q7 will weigh 716.5 lbs less than the existing model. The Q7 already uses aluminum in the hood, fenders and tailgate. But the next version will also feature aluminum doors, which will knock 209.4 pounds off the end weight. The 2017 Q7 will also see aluminum sheet used in the roof as well as the floor. Aluminum sections and castings will be used in the front and rear bumper beams. The SUV will utilize “hot-stamped ultra-high-strength steel” for 12 percent of the body (mostly in the A- and B-pillars and floor rails such as rockers).

Audi also announced new joining techniques have been developed to join all these exotic pieces. The company will use roller hemming to attached the side wall frame and create “ultra-strong B-pillars.” This will allow “slender flanges” and “large, comfortable door cutouts,” according to a 2015 news release. Audi will also use “friction-element” welds and rivets to connect steel and aluminum, and “punch-riveting, clinching and self-tapping screws” for cold-joined pieces.

When it comes to new digital technology, Audi announced that it continues to accelerate its investments and interest in the area of digitization. In early December, the company acquired a one-third interest in HERE, a digital mapping program that will be key tor the development of connected cars. The company will be hiring people in this space.

“We are looking for experts in areas important for the future,” said Staler. This past November Audi also announced it will use Sirius XM’s Connected Vehicle Services to provide emergency response services in all Audi vehicles. The new service features a dual operator system. In the case of an accident one operator stays on the phone with the vehicle occupant while another operator contacts emergency responders. The service can also be used to report and track stolen vehicles. This new service will appear in the 2017 Audi Q7 SUV, which will go on sale in early 2016. According to the release the service will add “helpful and soothing human intervention in emergencies,” so that’s nice. Presumably, OnStar will have to up its “soothing” rating in response.

A couple of other neat features: The new digital service will also allow owners to remotely manage their vehicles, such as by locking and unlocking doors using an app on their smart phones or watches. The predictive “efficiency” assistant will help drivers save fuel. Adaptive cruise control with “traffic jam assist” will relieve operators from the chore of driving in slow-moving traffic on roads in good condition. Other features include cross-traffic assist, exit assist and trailer maneuver assist.

Another new feature: Forthcoming cars will attempt to avoid pedestrian deaths through a “pyrotechnic” device that pushes the hood upwards in a millisecond in the case of an accident. This is meant to prevent the pedestrians head from “striking against hard engine parts.” What this means for collision techs trying to repair a hood or engine is anyone’s guess. But one thing is for sure: The complexity of modern vehicles continues to roll on.

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