It’s June 7 in the South Chinese city Foshan. While it’s raining cats and dogs outside, a group of Chinese and Germans gathers in the Grand Hyatt hotel lobby. A mixture of Chinese, German and English can be heard. Four drivers, three Audi engineers and one interpreter are meeting here – including me right in the middle. The all-new Audi Q8 is tested on the streets of Foshan today. One day ago, the completely new model celebrated its world premiere in Shenzhen that is about 200 kilometers away. The Q8 promises a lot: A four-door luxury coupe with the variety of a robust SUV. But how does driving it in the city and the countryside feel like?
Audi is testing the Q8 in various situations during the big summer testing in China. The first test vehicles started arriving in China in August 2017. A couple of months have passed since then – and the Q8 has been on the road for many kilometers. All of the Q8 driving around – a total of five – had completed 195,398 kilometers by mid-June. They drove different test cycles all over China. Today, the Q8 will be tested on the streets of Foshan.
Audi China test engineer Monty Lucke and his colleagues meet up every morning and plan the day. Routes, meeting points, time frames – here’s where the framework for the testing is built. This morning, Thomas Warning, who coordinates the test drive as the analysis technician on-site, is standing in the hotel lobby in front of the entire team and assigns the different cars. Among them is the A8L, the Q7 e-tron and just recently revealed: two Q8. And four Chinese drivers are waiting on their deployment to the streets of Foshan.
Without the experience of the people here, you can’t test in China.”, Warning says while distributing walkie-talkies. Always among them: Zaogang Hong as the interpreter to make sure that the drivers and engineers can communicate smoothly.
“The police are often skeptical when we’re driving around with temporary test vehicle plates or with a camouflage design”, Zaogang Hong explains and turns towards the drivers. After a short morning briefing, we go off to the cars. Monty Lucke sits down behind the Q8’s steering wheel: “We’re dividing the drivers, so that every engineer has a specific test area.” Lucke is testing the driver assist systems in the prototype, while another colleague preoccupies himself with the infotainment system. A view outside the window reveals something: The Q8 will get wet today. But it still needs to tested how the driver assist systems function during heavy rain in the Chinese traffic that’s characterized by drivers accelerating faster and them keeping little distance between each other.
The two Q8 have been out and about for around two hours in heavy rain – without having encountered any problems so far. Suddenly, an Audi pre sense warning pops up: A disturbance of the lights. Monty quickly presses a red trigger button next to the driver’s seat and retrieves a sheet of paper that documents all notifications. This could be due to the intense rainfall that the Q8 was exposed to in the last few hours”, Monty says and writes down the time and environmental conditions. At the same time, a data logger saves all relevant numbers and times that will be evaluated after the drive.
But there’s something no one noticed: The two Q8 landed in a small, deserted alleyway with the typical red Chinese lanterns. “The beautiful thing about the test drives: We’re discovering angles that we otherwise wouldn’t get to see”, says Thomas and daydreams about the summer and winter drives. The special thing about those driving sessions: Within the span of just a few weeks, the Q8 is tested in different climate zones. From the humid and tropical air in the Chinese South to the dry air in the Gobi Desert up to the Kunlun Pass at an altitude of 4,700 meters: The test drives cover all of the different climatic conditions.
Since 2011, the test center in Beijing (TCB) has tested a total 20 million kilometers of routes in different Chinese regions. And the reasons for the test drives are diverse: During heavy rain, there are battery tests, while during a ferry crossing, the positioning of the navigational system is important. Thomas and Monty share the same opinion: “Our aim is clear: We test every possible driving situation in order to offer the customer a perfect product”.
By now, the rain has stopped and the sun is starting to appear between the clouds. And the landscape has changed as well: No narrow and densely populated roads, but long and broad roads that lead towards the countryside. And then there’s a deafening sound. Thomas realizes it soon: The memory card of the data logger is full. A little later, he’s standing at the trunk and changing the memory cards. “In case of an error, we probably use around one percent of the collected data, but the other 99 percent of the data are important for a comparison. By using the rigger, we set a little time marker during an error and then receive a smaller data package.” The test drives can only work, when all data is stored in the data logger. The day with the Q8 is gearing towards its end. After another drive in the rain in narrow alleyways and on country roads, the two Q8 arrive at the hotel.
Although the Q8 isn’t active on the road anymore, the test still isn’t over. After the drive Monty, Thomas and the team have to document and analyze the errors and download the software for the next day. Then there’s a shift interview with every driver to find out more about the error’s relations. When one error happens, Monty and Thomas create a ticket in a system that sends the data and verification directly to the responsible engineer in the specialized department. And afterwards, another day for the Q8 on the streets of China begins.
Elegance, sportiness, sensitivity and connectivity: The control and design elements of the Audi Q8 convince and create a trusty companion for business and leisure. In addition, diverse assistance systems constantly support the driver. Following in early 2019, the remote garage pilot that guides the SUV into a garage and back out again autonomously under the supervision of the driver, will be added. Depending on the selected options, these features are made possible by up to five radar sensors, six cameras, twelve ultrasound sensors and the laser scanner.