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Audi Tech Day: A glimpse into the future

Mark Hacking
Neustadt, Germany - With environmental issues weighing heavily on the world's collective mind, the methods with which to deal with climate change and dwindling resources are becoming more and more critical.

As recently as a year ago, automobile manufacturers seemed to be hedging their bets and playing coy; they recognized their role in developing more eco-conscious vehicles, but seemed unwilling or unable to land on a definitive direction for their efforts.

These days, though, the consensus is that alternative fuel will eventually come from a variety of sources. This understanding paves the way for hybrids, electric vehicles, fuel cells, diesels, biodiesels, as well as cars powered directly by hydrogen, natural gas, ethanol and bioethanol. (Or a mind-boggling combination of all of the above.)

While it's clear that various manufacturers are dipping their toes in a number of different alternative fuel pools, it's still extremely rare for an automobile company to invite journalists to look at what they're "thinking" of putting into production. It's rarer still for said company to let people drive these "pre-pre-production vehicles" and form their own opinions.

But such was the case recently when Audi invited journalists to their proving ground in Neustadt, a top-secret facility located close to their corporate headquarters in Ingolstadt.

Class in session
After signing in at the guard stand - and leaving all our photographic equipment behind - we drove towards the building that would serve as mission control for this peak into the future. Along the way, we marveled at the sheer scope of the proving grounds: there were numerous areas for skid pads, a two-lane road that snaked through a forested section and, most impressively, a high-banked oval used for high-speed testing.

The Audi Tech Day turned out to be a combination of classroom lectures and hands-on testing of the vehicles that corresponded to the lessons being taught. Although the "glamorous" subject matters revolved around alternative fuel solutions, there were also insights into how Audi is making incremental improvements to their existing vehicles to make them more efficient and eco-friendly.

One of the key challenges for automakers is in balancing how to better protect the environment without compromising what the car owner has become accustomed to in his or her daily driver.

Mark Hacking
Mark Hacking
Automotive expert