The fast-growing German luxury automaker has added a Silicon Valley ethos into its auto development, aiming to make customers even happier with its cars.
Over the last decade, the car became fully networked internally. Over the next decade, it will become fully networked with its surroundings. That’s the goal driving Ricky Hudi, head of electrics/electronics at Audi AG, a unit of Volkswagen. Hudi joined Audi in 1997, and likes to joke that being born in Silicon Valley has made him the right man for the job — if for no other reason than he holds dual U.S. and German passports (his parents moved back to Germany when he was three months old).
Hudi says electronics is the motivating force for innovation in modern automobiles, from the engine to the gearbox to the driver experience. So Audi works closely with semiconductor and software companies to bring research ideas into its cars. But getting into position to create a connected car, the car as social medium, took a good deal of planning and time and a major restructuring of how the premium car manufacturer works with its supply chain, mixing traditional automotive suppliers with technology companies. In an interview with MIT Sloan Management Review contributing editor Michael Fitzgerald, Hudi described the transition Audi is making and his perspective on the future of the auto industry.
To what extent does Audi think about the car as a social medium?
The car and social media belong together. Not long ago the car was the least networked part of our life. We started to change this and we offer interaction now, well integrated in our user human-machine interface (HMI) concept into the car. By the end of this decade, I’m convinced that every premium car around the world will be 100% networked. It will be part of the [Internet] and offer customers the functionality they want.
Audi potentially will have access to totally new kinds of customer data. Is that considered important to Audi?
We do not gather data from the device. The contract is completely customer-focused. It is a classic Android account with a Gmail account.
Did you talk about setting it up so Audi would have more access to that data?
Customer data are not in our focus. The Audi Smart Display’s main focus is to give the customer a better user experience. But what is in our focus is the data [that] we can deliver for our cars, [to improve how] cars interact together.