VW’s Sedric has tech but lacks excitement
The road to the self-driving future looks clever and very, very dull, says Michael Taylor
The Volkswagen Group has taken us from the Beetle to the Golf and it soon might take us somewhere very, very boring with the new Sedric concept car.
This pod-like hi-tech vision of future mobility doesn’t even have a steering wheel, thanks to its Level 5 autonomous driving systems, and is the strongest statement yet from the company’s Together Strategy 2025.
The Sedric is crammed with the thinking Volkswagen believes it will need to transform itself from an engineering-driven automaker into an integrated mobility services organisation.
It’s even got its own division to oversee the transfer, imaginatively dubbed the Mobility Services division, and it has played a large part in the four-seat Sedric’s development.
Unveiled at a limited-access media presentation prior to the Geneva motor show, the Sedric is a different kind of prototype for the Volkswagen Group.
Instead of building new hardware pieces and swapping them in, the Sedric allows all the group’s brands to explore how their mobility concepts could work in the real world.
The battery-electric car’s control systems are said to be simple to understand and use, which will allow it to conceptually slip effortlessly into car-sharing networks.
It’s the culmination of efforts by the group’s research and development boss, Ulrich Eichhorn, its self-confessed head nerd, chief digital officer Johan Jungwirth, and head of design, Michael Mauer.
It also serves to highlight some of the company’s more recent acquisitions, including mobility services provider Gett, and German mobility services operation MOIA.
The Sedric is pronounced the same way as the infamously boring Nissan sedan of the late 20th century, though its name doesn’t reflect the main character in Little Lord Fauntleroy. Instead, it is an acronym for self-driving car.
As such, it also brings in speech-controlled driving, with voice commands governing the car’s throttle systems and no pedals emerging from its floor.
The interior is surprisingly roomy, largely thanks to the removal of the steering wheel and transmission tunnel and the adoption of a high roofline.
Beneath the floor, the Sedric uses a lithium-ion battery pack with enough capacity to move the car for around 400km, Volkswagen claims.
It’s driven by a 100kW electric motor on the rear axle, making it at least philosophically similar to the Beetle, but going fast is not at its heart.
It uses five Lidar (light, image, detection and ranging) scanners on its roof and other radars and scanners to give it 360° views of the world.
It also uses real-time, 5G connections to give it millimetre-accurate Here digital maps to deliver the Sedric enough accurate data to move to Level 5 full autonomous driving.
Press the button
It’s also governed by a key fob that Jungwirth praises as the "key to the future". Pressing its button calls a Sedric to come to you, with its arrival time displayed on the key.
Volkswagen Group CEO Matthias Mueller says the company is spending billions on artificial intelligence and negotiating with governments on legislation for autonomous driving.
"[There are] not just technical but legal and political hurdles. We need to find answers to difficult moral questions, but there will be solutions," he says.
The group plans to launch driverless cars after 2020, starting with Level 4 technologies.