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Audi seeks to regain tech leadership with AV project

FRANKFURT — Audi’s new CEO, Markus Duesmann, has brought together a team to develop an advanced, self-driving electric vehicle as he seeks to restore the automaker’s reputation as a technology leader.

The team will work on the Artemis project, which aims to bring to market by 2024 a fully digital passenger car capable of highly automated driving.

Duesmann has picked the head of parent VW Group’s autonomous driving program, Alex Hitzinger, to lead Artemis. Hitzinger, 48, was named an Automotive News Europe Rising Star in 2014 when he worked for Porsche.

Hitzinger, a former Formula 1 and Le Mans endurance racing engineer, will work with a team of automotive and technology experts to “develop a pioneering model for Audi quickly and unbureaucratically,” Duesmann said in a statement.

“In the midterm I expect Artemis will serve as a blueprint for a quick and agile development process in the group, as nimble as you would find at a race car team,” said Duesmann, who is also R&D head for Audi parent Volkswagen Group in addition to his role as Audi CEO.

The resources and technologies of the entire VW group are potentially available for the project and the Artemis team will enjoy a large degree of freedom, Audi said.

The car will be designed for a new business model that would generate revenue during the use of the vehicle.

Audi declined to give any information about the proposed high-tech model because the product specifications had not yet been finalized.

From the brief description, however, it comes closest to the Aicon concept, a luxury sedan with Level 5 “hands off” self-driving technology that Audi unveiled at the 2017 Frankfurt auto show.

The A8-size concept resembled a lounge on wheels and did not have a steering wheel. It was considered too expensive to produce and sell to retail customers. The concept was designed primarily with mobility service providers in mind.

The name Artemis, the lunar goddess in ancient Greek mythology, was picked for the project because it has two meanings, Audi said.

It is the same name given to NASA’s program designed to land the first female astronaut on the Moon in 2024, the same year as the Audi model is supposed to launch.

The Greek goddess Artemis also represented the hunt, a suitable symbol as Audi’s aims to become a technology leader, Audi executives told Automotive News Europe.

Duesmann, a mechanical engineer who was BMW’s purchasing chief, became Audi CEO on April 1. He is tasked with injecting new meaning into the brand’s advertising slogan Vorsprung Durch Technik (Advancement Through Technology).

Audi’s reputation as a technology pioneer suffered as its technology began to lag rivals under former CEO Rupert Stadler, a finance executive, and his successor Bram Schot, a sales expert.

New industry disruptors such as Tesla have overshadowed Audi and its German peers BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

Audi’s role in VW Group’s diesel emissions-rigging scandal also damaged its reputation. Audi engineers were accused of creating so-called “defeat” devices used to cheat diesel emissions tests. Two Audi development chiefs were fired and the scandal cost the automaker 3.4 billion euros.