European automaker technology trends: Autonomous Vehicles

Benefits and competition driving development of autonomous technology



Volkswagen I.D. Concept at the 2016 Paris Motor Show. Source: Volkswagen
Volkswagen I.D. Concept at the 2016 Paris Motor Show
Source: Volkswagen

 The advent of autonomous vehicle technology has had a significant impact on the automotive industry. Autonomous vehicles provide the possibility of improving safety, increasing individual mobility, reducing congestion and increasing productivity, while supplementing opportunities for new business models such as ride-hailing and ride-sharing. The potential marketability of autonomous technology as a vehicle feature and the competition within the segment are factors that have increased European automaker investment in the development of self-driving technology.

 In 2016, the three major German OEMs all revealed company strategies which featured autonomous technology as an integral part of their future. As the development of autonomous technology progresses, automakers have continued work on pilot and testing programs while forming partnerships with other entities. European automakers have also continued to announce, develop, and launch new vehicle models with various advanced driver assistance systems. This report summarizes European OEM trends related to autonomous technology, providing contributing reasons towards its rapid development, as well as current and future models and concepts with autonomous systems, strategies, goals, and other activities.

Summary of SAE levels of driving automation

Automation Level Definition
Level 1 – Driver Assistance The system performs either steering or acceleration/deceleration assistance for a dynamic driving task based on environment information while the driver controls all remaining aspects of the maneuver
Level 2 – Partial Automation The system performs both steering and acceleration/deceleration for a dynamic driving task based on environment information while the driver controls all remaining aspects of the vehicle
Level 3 – Conditional Automation The automated system performs all aspects of a dynamic driving task with the expectation that the driver will respond appropriately to a request to assume control
Level 4 – High Automation The automated system performs all aspects of a dynamic driving task with the expectation that the driver may not respond appropriately to a request to assume control
Level 5 – Full Automation The automated system performs all aspects of a dynamic driving task under all conditions that can be managed by a human driver

Related reports:

U.S. NHTSA: Announcement of guidance for autonomous vehicles (November 2016)
Nissan and Volvo Cars' autonomous driving (November 2016)
3D Maps for Autonomous Driving: Standardization and Update Method Studies Advance (September 2016)
Perspectives on autonomous vehicle development : TU-Automotive Detroit 2016 (June 2016)

Drivers of autonomous vehicle technology development

 Whereas the trend towards electric vehicles is primarily driven by factors outside the industry such as government regulations and the Volkswagen emissions scandal, the trend towards autonomous vehicles is being driven by companies realizing the marketable benefits of autonomous driving and the inherent competition in the industry.

Marketability of autonomous technology benefits

 An often mentioned claim regarding a safety benefit of autonomous driving is that approximately 90% of vehicle crashes are caused at least in part by human error. According to a survey conducted from 2005 to 2007 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the driver is the critical reason, that is, the immediate reason for the circumstances that led to the vehicle’s first impact, for an estimated 94% of crashes. Another study, called the Tri-Level Study of the Causes of Traffic Accidents, found that human errors were a definite or probable cause in approximately 93% of vehicle crashes. Autonomous technology will reduce the possibility of human error in vehicle operation. Thus, automakers often tout autonomous technology as a significant force in reducing the number of accidents and improving vehicle safety.

Crash Reason Pie
Distribution of critical reasons for crashes according to 2005-2007 survey
Source: NHTSA
Accident Cause Venn Diagram2
Venn Diagram showing causes of accidents from Tri-Level Study
Source: Institute for Research in Public Safety

 Beyond safety, autonomous vehicles have the potential benefit of increasing individual mobility. A fully autonomous car would provide vehicle access to groups of people who would normally be unable to drive vehicles by themselves, such as the elderly and the disabled. This, in turn, creates opportunities for automakers to sell more vehicles to those groups. Another benefit is that an autonomous vehicle frees up time and mental energy that a driver can use for activities other than driving the vehicle, thus improving comfort and convenience for the driver. Thus, automakers are developing autonomous technology to appeal to customers interested in the benefits of fully realized autonomous technology.

Competition generating feedback cycle for autonomous development

 As automakers have realized the benefits of autonomous technology, many of them have implemented the technology in their vehicles, particularly in luxury models. However, the need for automakers to distinguish themselves from their competitors has created a positive feedback effect, driving companies to invest more time and resources in autonomous technology and increase rate of implementation. Furthermore, automakers are facing increased competition, from sources not only within the automotive industry like Tesla, but outside the industry as well, in companies such as Apple and Google.

 The effects of competition could be seen in the model introductions by Daimler and Volkswagen during the Paris Auto Show. Both companies unveiled electric vehicle concepts with autonomous driving capabilities in the Mercedes-Benz Generation EQ and the Volkswagen I.D. In addition, all three major German automakers announced company strategies with a focus on autonomous technology during the year, Daimler with CASE, Volkswagen with TOGETHER-Strategy 2025, and BMW with Strategy NUMBER ONE. Other companies have also promoted their efforts in autonomous technology, with Volvo making announcements on its testing programs, and Jaguar Land Rover starting its own research in autonomous vehicles, despite previous hesitation.

 One notable competitor in autonomous development is Tesla, which has heavily promoted its Autopilot feature. The Autopilot system was introduced to drivers in October 2015, providing several features described as ”the most advanced Level 2 driver assistance features available”. On October 2016, Tesla announced that all models produced from that date would have the hardware capacity for full self-driving capabilities. While having the first fatality in an autonomous vehicle take place in an Autopilot-operated Tesla hurt public perception of the company, Tesla’s push in implementing autonomous technology on its vehicles has received significant publicity and forced other automakers to react.

Tesla Front Cameras

Triple front-facing cameras used in Tesla Autopilot system
Source: Tesla

Tesla Model
Tesla Model S at the 2015 North American International Auto Show

Current notable vehicles with autonomous technology

 Many European automakers have already launched vehicle models with self-driving systems of varying capability levels.

Summary of sensors on European models with significant autonomous capabilities. The Tesla Model S is included for comparison.

BMW 7 Series Audi A4 Volvo S90 Tesla Model S
Radars Single front-facing long-range radar (200 m); Two short-range radars on corners of rear bumper and two in front bumper (30 m); Multi-mode radar in rear bumper (80 m and 30 m) Three radar sensors scan direction of travel (150 m); Two radars on corners of rear bumper; Two front radar sensors; Two rear radar sensors (70 m); Four radar sensors – two front facing and two rear facing; Multiple-beam laser scanner (150 m, 140 degrees) Front-facing radar (160 m)
Cameras Stereo multi-purpose camera (50 m spatial, 500 m recognition); Wide-angle rearview camera; Multi-camera Surround View System Front-facing stereo camera; Rearview camera; Surround view camera system Windshield-mounted front camera (100 m); Rearview camera; 360-degree cameras for parking 140-degree front camera; Side cameras on exterior mirrors; Rearview camera; Camera on front grille for 360-degree camera system Narrow forward camera (250 m); Main forward camera (150 m); Wide forward camera (60 m); 2 forward-facing side cameras (80 m); 2 rear-facing side cameras (100 m); Rearview camera (50 m)
Ultrasonic sensors Multiple sensors for parking pilot system Sensors for parking system Six front and six rear ultrasonic sensors 12 ultrasonic sensors 12 ultrasonic sensors (8 m)

Mercedes-Benz E-Class described as the “most intelligent luxury sedan”

 Debuting at the 2016 North American International Auto Show, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class is the first production car licensed for autonomous test driving in Nevada. With the Drive Pilot system on the optional Driver Assistance Package Plus, the E-Class uses cameras and radar to automatically maintain a set distance from a lead vehicle and follow traffic at speeds of up to 210 km/h. In addition, with the assistance of the Steering Pilot system, the E-Class can actively intervene in steering even in cases where lane lines are not clearly visible, at speeds of up to 130 km/h. The Traffic Sign Assist system uses cameras to capture the image of speed limit signs, which the system then processes to interpret the speed limit, setting an upper limit for cruise control systems.

Mercedes-Benz E-Class
Mercedes-Benz E-Class at the 2016 North American International Auto Show
Mercedes-Benz E-Class Lane Change
Diagram of Active Lane Change Assist system
Source: Mercedes-Benz

 Another semi-autonomous system on the E-Class is an Active Lane Change Assist system which uses radars and cameras to check if road lanes are free before automatically changing lanes. The E-Class also has Active Brake Assist with cross-traffic functions which uses the vehicle’s radar systems to detect crossing traffic and autonomously apply the brakes if necessary. The Active Brake Assist can avoid accidents at speeds of up to 69 km/h. Finally, the E-class will also have the world’s first fully integrated V2X communication system, allowing the vehicle to communicate with other E-Class models or infrastructure.

BMW 7 Series features Remote Control Parking

BMW 7-Series
BMW 7 Series
Source: BMW

 The BMW 7 Series is the first production model to feature a Remote Control Parking system, which enables the vehicle to enter a parking space without a driver at the wheel. The system uses sensors to ensure that the area around the vehicle is clear before and while maneuvering into the parking space. Another autonomous feature on the 7 Series is Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go, which allows the vehicle to maintain a specific distance behind a lead vehicle, even if it comes to a stop, through the use of three radar sensors. The steering and lane control assistant keeps the vehicle centered in its lane through the use of multiple radar systems and a stereo camera. Both the Active Cruise Control and the steering and lane control assistant can be used at speeds of up to 210 km/h.

Driver Assistance Systems on Audi A4 utilize array of sensors

 One of the available assistance systems in the Audi A4 luxury sedan is the adaptive cruise control Stop & Go system including Traffic Jam Assist. The system uses two front-facing radars and a camera to maintain a driver-specified distance from the vehicle ahead. The Stop & Go function provides additional capability for the vehicle to brake to a full stop and resume driving, while the Traffic Jam Assist function can assume control of the vehicle at speeds of up to 65 km/h on developed roads with heavy traffic by using radar, ultrasonic sensors, and the front camera. The Pre-Sense city system uses the A4’s front camera to scan for other vehicles and pedestrians up to 100 meters in front of the vehicle at speeds of up to 85 km/h. Finally, the parking assistance system uses ultrasonic sensors in the front and rear to provide steering assistance for parking spaces parallel or perpendicular to the road.

Audi A4
Audi A4
Source: Audi
Audi A4 Traffic Jam
Systems in Audi A4 used in Traffic Jam Assist
Source: Audi

Volvo S90 features variety of semi-autonomous technologies as standard

 The Volvo S90 is notable in that it is the first model which offers semi-autonomous systems such as the Pilot Assist system and City Safety system as standard equipment. The Pilot Assist system can brake, accelerate, and steer the vehicle in a variety of scenarios without the need of a lead car at speeds of up to 130 km/h using a forward-facing laser radar and camera. The City Safety system can detect vehicles, cyclists, pedestrians, and large animals in the path of the S90 and are always enabled at speeds above 4 km/h. The driver is first warned of an impending collision through the system. If no action is taken, then the S90 automatically brakes, avoiding collisions at lower speeds and mitigating damage at higher speeds. Optional equipment on the S90 includes a 360-degree camera system that can be used to detect objects close to the vehicle.

Volvo S90
Volvo S90 at the 2016 North American International Auto Show
Volvo Intellisafe Sensors
Overlay of sensors used and areas covered in Volvo’s systems
Source: Volvo

Autonomous concepts, future models and strategies of major European OEMs

 While cars with driver assistance and semi-autonomous capabilities are currently available, these achievements serve only as foundations for many automakers, as they still aim to launch a vehicle with fully autonomous capabilities.

Summary of key future autonomous vehicle plans and goals
Summary of key future autonomous vehicle plans and goals

Generation EQ concept highlights Daimler’s CASE strategy

 The Mercedes-Benz Generation EQ unveiled at the 2016 Paris Motor Show represents Daimler’s CASE strategy, bringing concepts of connectivity, autonomous driving, flexible use, and electric drive systems together. The electric SUV concept will expand upon currently available autonomous technology with enhanced sensor fusion capability, the utilization of maps from HERE to adjust speed and driving dynamics, and V2X communication technology which allows the vehicle to exchange information with infrastructure and other vehicles. A production version of the Generation EQ will be built at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Bremen, Germany, and is expected to launch in 2020.

Mercedes-Benz Generation EQ3
Mercedes-Benz Generation EQ
Source: Mercedes-Benz
Mercedes-Benz F 015
Mercedes-Benz F 015 Luxury in Motion concept at the 2015 North American International Auto Show

 In order to reach the target of launching a production vehicle capable of fully autonomous driving by 2020, Daimler has already developed a number of concepts and testing vehicles. The F 015 Luxury in Motion concept, which debuted at CES 2015, represents what an autonomous vehicle could look like in the future. The automaker has utilized prototypes including the Mercedes-Benz S 500 Intelligent Drive, E-Class, and Freightliner Inspiration Truck to test and demonstrate autonomous capabilities in both passenger and commercial vehicles.

Volkswagen and Audi brands take different approaches to autonomous technology

 Debuting at the 2016 Paris Motor Show, the Volkswagen I.D. compact electric vehicle concept provided a preview of a vehicle capable of fully autonomous driving. The I.D. concept was developed to accommodate fully autonomous driving with its I.D. Pilot mode when the technology becomes available in 2025. I.D. Pilot mode is activated by depressing the Volkswagen logo on the steering wheel for three seconds. In this mode, the I.D. activates four roof-mounted laser scanners which combine with ultrasonic sensors, radar, and various cameras to collect data. The protruding laser scanners, highlighted by indirect lighting, indicate the fact that the I.D. is being autonomously piloted. Volkswagen is expected to launch a production version of the I.D. in 2020 for approximately USD 30,000.

 During the Volkswagen Group’s Annual General Meeting on June 2016, Volkswagen CEO Matthias Muller made a series of announcements in regards to autonomous vehicles. Most notably, he announced that the Volkswagen Group would launch fully autonomous vehicles by 2021, and that the autonomous system would be developed in-house. In regards to Audi, the brand announced that it expects to introduce the world’s first level 3 automated driving system with Traffic Jam Pilot in 2018. In 2020-2021, Audi expects to introduce a Highway Pilot feature, which extends the capability of Traffic Jam Pilot.

Volkswagen ID Concept3
Volkswagen I.D. Concept at 2016 Paris Motor Show
Source: Volkswagen
Audi A7 pilot drive
Audi A7 piloted driving concept
Source: Audi

 Audi is currently using an A7 piloted driving concept as a research car to develop autonomous technology. The A7 piloted driving car has accomplished a variety of tests, including a 550-mile test drive from Silicon Valley to Las Vegas in 2015. According to Auto Express, the new Audi A8 will be the first production car with level 3 autonomous driving technology, featuring long-range radar, 12 ultrasonic sensors, laser scanners, and high-resolution video cameras. The Audi A8 will use piloted driving and parking technology previewed in the Audi h-tron quattro concept shown at the 2016 North American International Auto Show.

BMW’s autonomous strategy revolves around iNext model

BMW i Vision Concept
BMW i Vision Future Interaction Car
Source: BMW

 Whereas BMW’s Project i resulted in the creation of the BMW i brand and the development of urban electric vehicles, Project i 2.0 will focus on the development of automated and fully networked driving. Specific areas of research for Project i 2.0 will include high-definition digital maps, sensor technology, cloud technology and artificial intelligence. All of these efforts will culminate in the launch of the BMW iNext in 2021. The BMW iNext will serve as the foundation for the automaker’s autonomous driving strategy and will provide level 3 and higher autonomous driving capabilities. In July 2016, BMW announced its partnership with Intel and Mobileye to develop the iNext. The partners expect to have a platform in 2017 capable of extended autonomous test drives.

 At CES 2016, BMW displayed the BMW i Vision Future Interaction Car concept, a concept based off of the BMW i8 Concept Spyder, to demonstrate how a vehicle’s user interface may look in the future. For example, the Vision Future Interaction’s steering wheel is illuminated in different colors of light depending on the situation, blue for highly automated drive mode, and red if the driver needs to take control of the vehicle. When switching to highly automated driving, the vehicle’s interior shifts to provide more room, with the steering wheel moving forward and the seats rotating to face the center display. The number of control elements on the Vision Future Interaction are limited, with the most important being the drive selector switch, allowing the driver to switch from manual, assisted, or highly automated driving modes.

Volvo’s Vision 2020 ideal inspires autonomous development

 Volvo’s Vision 2020 states that no one should be seriously injured or killed while driving a new Volvo vehicle. This ideal drives Volvo’s focus on safety and is a main reason for the automaker’s implementation of autonomous technology in its vehicles. Volvo has developed semi-autonomous versions of the XC90 at a special manufacturing facility in Gothenburg, Sweden as part of its Drive Me testing project. Once Volvo’s engineers have completed testing on these models, the vehicles will be given to customers to test on Gothenburg’s public roads. In 2018, the project will be expanded to include 100 test vehicles capable of fully autonomous driving. Volvo is aiming to bring fully autonomous driving capable vehicles to commercial production by 2021.

Other European automakers reveal autonomous strategies

Renault Trezor Concept 2
Renault Trezor Concept
Source: Renault

 In January 2016, the Renault-Nissan alliance announced that it would launch more than ten vehicle models with autonomous drive technology through 2020. Unlike other European OEMs which have focused on developing autonomous technology for luxury models, Renault-Nissan is notable in that it is aiming to provide autonomous capabilities on mass-market models at affordable prices. Despite this philosophy, the automaker is still willing to feature self-driving technology on other vehicle segments. For example, at the Paris Motor Show, Renault unveiled the Trezor concept sports car which features an autonomous driving mode. While in autonomous driving mode, the Trezor’s changes its exterior lighting signature, signifying to other people that the system is in operation.

 PSA’s Push to Pass strategy is meant to meet the mobility needs of customers by predicting changes in how vehicles will be used. PSA provided a roadmap highlighting specific driver assist technologies that would be commercially available to prepare for autonomous driving. In 2018, the automaker plans to provide driver-monitored automated driving systems in the form of Traffic Jam Assist, allowing the vehicle to navigate in congestion under certain speeds. By 2020, PSA will introduce completely autonomous driving features, or “Hands Off” driving, which allows the vehicle to have full control. In 2021, PSA hopes to introduce an “Eyes Off” autonomous system, in which the driver does not have to maintain full attention to the road.

European automaker activities supporting autonomous technology development

 European automakers have made significant investments, formed partnerships, and performed numerous tests and pilot programs to help develop autonomous vehicle technology.

German automakers announce variety of measures supporting autonomous technology

 In August 2013, Daimler's S 500 Intelligent Drive research vehicle, a prototype based on the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, autonomously traveled 100 kilometers between Mannheim and Pforzheim. In September 2015, Daimler was the first automaker to receive official permission to test autonomous vehicles on public roads in California. Furthermore, since October 2015, Daimler’s first autonomous series-built truck, a Mercedes-Benz Actros, has been undergoing tests on roads in Germany. Outside its testing programs, Daimler, along with Audi and BMW, acquired Nokia’s HERE digital mapping and location services business in 2015 for approximately EUR 2.8 billion.

Mercedes-Benz S 500 Intelligent
Mercedes-Benz S 500 Intelligent Drive research vehicle
Source: Mercedes-Benz
Mercedes-Benz Actros
Mercedes-Benz Actros with Highway Pilot
Source: Mercedes-Benz

 The Volkswagen Group’s actions in autonomous vehicle development have thus far centered on internal investment and restructuring. During Volkswagen’s Annual General Meeting on June 2016, CEO Matthias Muller announced that Volkswagen would invest several billion euros total in autonomous technology and solutions. The company is also planning to hire approximately 1,000 software specialists to assist in the development of autonomous technology. According to Reuters, Volkswagen Chief Digital Officer Johann Jungwirth said that the group is planning acquisitions for new technologies and services, including autonomous technology. The company’s Audi brand is also planning to create a subsidiary called SDS Company for the development of an autonomous car.

 Aside from BMW’s role in the acquisition of HERE, BMW has also partnered with Intel and Mobileye for the development of the iNext by 2021. A Reuters article from June 2016 mentioned that the automaker will increase the percentage of software engineers in its R&D staff from 20% of 30,000 employees to 50% by 2021 to aid in the development of the iNext. In addition, multiple news sources have mentioned that BMW will build a new test center for autonomous vehicles in Munich, which will have approximately 2,000 workers. An article from Business Insider stated that BMW will start testing approximately 40 self-driving cars in the Munich inner-city area in 2017, with future plans to expand the testing to other cities.

Other European automakers at various stages of autonomous development

Volvo XC90 Drive me
Volvo XC90 autonomous vehicle used in Drive Me project.
Source: Volvo
Citroen C4
Citroen C4 Picasso test vehicle.
Source: PSA

 Volvo has announced collaborations with a number of different companies to develop autonomous technologies, including a partnership with Microsoft in November 2015, a collaboration with Uber in August 2016, and a joint venture with Autoliv in September 2016. Volvo has also worked with and utilized Inrix’s services and analytics, including the Inrix Traffic application which provides complete traffic data, in models such as the V40, S60 and XC60. Volvo has also focused heavily on its Drive Me testing project, a project which gathers data from consumer usage of autonomous XC90s. The project first launched in Gothenburg, Sweden in September 2016, will continue in London in 2017 as the largest test of self-driving cars on public UK roads, and expand further in China. By 2018, the Drive Me project in London will expand to include up to 100 fully autonomous cars.

 While Renault and PSA have not focused on autonomous vehicle technology as much as other automakers, both companies still have made efforts in its development. In June 2016, Renault and Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn announced that the Renault-Nissan Alliance was in the process of hiring at least 300 technology experts for a new division focused on advanced technology, including autonomous technology. In November 2016, Renault formed a partnership with Chronocam SA, a developer of vision sensors and computer vision solutions. PSA announced that as of September 2016, four Citroen C4 Picasso test vehicles with specific autonomous driving capabilities had travelled over 60,000 kilometers under level 2 autonomy standards since the middle of 2015.

 Finally, despite statements in June 2015 from Jaguar Land Rover Director of Research and Technology Wolfgang Epple stating that the automaker wasn’t interested in a fully autonomous car, Jaguar Land Rover has involved itself in developing autonomous technology. In July 2016, the automaker announced plans to create a fleet of over 100 research vehicles through 2020 to test connected and automated technologies. The first group of vehicles were tested along a 41-mile route of roadways and urban roads around Coventry and Solihull. Jaguar Land Rover has also developed systems and technologies for use in off-road autonomous driving through a multi-million pound research project. In addition, Jaguar Land Rover jointed MOVE-UK, a consortium of companies to develop and test driverless cars.

Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Volvo, VW, Audi, autonomous

< Automotive industry platform MarkLines >