New York Auto Show: Audi CEO Says Self-Driving Cars Are Inevitable

Audi Prologue concept

"If you look at driver distraction, the tediousness of certain driving situations, I think it's quite necessary," Audi of America CEO Scott Keogh tells THR.

One of the benefits of attending events like the New York International Auto Show is the opportunity to sidle up to some the industry's biggest executives as they wander the floor unescorted and ask them a few impudent questions.

Thursday morning, The Hollywood Reporter spotted Scott Keogh, CEO of Audi of America, checking out Cadillac's new CT6 sedan, which will compete directly with Audi's A8 when it is introduced later this year. 

Asked what he thought of the CT6, which is the centerpiece of Cadillac's multibillion-dollar rebranding, introduced during this year's Oscars telecast, Keogh initially declined to comment but relented. 

"Look, we take every competitor seriously — we'd be the last brand in the world not to take a competitor seriously," Keogh said, as the snow white CT6 slowly rotated on the stage in front of him. "So it's been a good, long look."

And what of Lincoln Motors' Continental concept, another future A8 rival, unveiled on Tuesday with Ford CEO Mark Fields' benediction that "this is our flagship"?

"I just came from there," Keogh said. "Nice car."

Keogh was amused that a designer from Bentley took to Facebook Tuesday to accuse Lincoln of copying the styling of the Continental from Bentley's exalted Flying Spur. 

"The industry is loaded with imitation — it's a form of flattery," Keogh said. "I wouldn't bother getting in the mud, OK? Come up with the next thing, then."

As for the wide impression that Tesla's Model S will be transformed into an autonomous car via a software upgrade this summer — the upgrade actually allows Tesla to catch up to the semi-autonomous driving capabilities of cars already manufactured by Mercedes, BMW and yes, Audi — Keogh said, "Look, if anyone knows about this stuff, it's us."

Keogh pointed to the heavily modified Audi SQ-5 that arrived in New York on Wednesday after a mostly autonomous cross-country voyage from Mountain View, Calif.

"Ninety-nine percent of the mileage was covered autonomously, which is quite cool," Keogh said.

Keogh cautioned that the expectations about autonomous cars need to be managed.

"Everyone thinks there's going to be an On-Off switch that says, 'This is autonomous, this is not autonomous' — that's not what's happening. We have adaptive cruise control in our cars right now. It's going to be continued advancements that consumers embrace."

But Keogh said that autonomous driving is inevitable — and desirable. 

"If you look at driver distraction, the tediousness of certain driving situations, I think it's quite necessary. Just coming at it from a safety point of view, if you're driving a car for seven hours and everything you do is perfect all the time — eyes on the road, hands on the wheel, doing everything correct — and for one split microsecond you look away" and are involved in a crash?

"That's a hell of a price to pay," Keogh said. "And that's why these systems are going to be embraced."