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Audi takes lead in automated driving, but others wary to follow

[FRANKFURT] German carmaker Audi is taking a lead in bringing more automated driving to roads, but rivals seem in no rush to follow while legal and regulatory uncertainties still cloud the technology.

At the Frankfurt car show, Audi paraded the A8 which can drive itself under certain conditions, decide when to change lanes and does not require drivers to monitor the road - though they must be ready to intervene at the sound of an alarm.

On a scale where zero is a fully manual car and five a fully autonomous one, the A8 is a level three, putting it ahead of level two features offered by Tesla and General Motors (GM).

Struggling to emerge from the shadow of parent Volkswagen's diesel emissions scandal, Audi is badly in need of a new prestige model and a marketing coup.

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"It's gratifying that we are able to set a positive sign for real 'Vorsprung durch Technik'," said research and development chief Peter Mertens, referring to Audi's advertising slogan meaning "advancement through technology".

But with special approval still required almost everywhere to drive such a car, and question marks over how quickly the driver has to take back control - and who is responsible during handover - some rivals are sceptical the market is ready.

"Who will accept to pay for something that they can use only in extremely limited conditions?" asked Didier Leroy, European chairman of Japanese carmaker Toyota.

"The fact that Audi is introducing this one now doesn't mean that we will rush in the coming months to say that we are able to do it too. That is not our logic," he told Reuters at the car show.

Among the A8's new features is the "traffic jam pilot", which can completely control driving at up to 60 kilometres per hour on a divided highway.

The German company expects customers will be able to use all the model's self-driving functions next year or in 2019. It is applying for approval country by country, starting with Germany, a spokesman said during the show.

Audi thus hopes to leapfrog Tesla, whose Autopilot technology suffered a major blow when a driver using it was killed in a crash, and GM, whose Super Cruise feature to be offered this autumn will allow limited hands-off driving at highway speeds on limited access roads like dual carriageways.

REUTERS

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