IN AN UNASSUMING RESEARCH LAB, VOLKSWAGEN IS SOLVING PROBLEMS THAT TESLA AND GOOGLE HAVEN’T COME CLOSE TO CRACKING.
We were rolling eastward across the San Mateo Bridge in an Audi A7 at a dutiful 55 miles per hour, and I was riding shotgun accompanied by two of the car’s engineers. With a sticker price topping $70,000, the A7 is a fancy car, but not an uncommon one along the stock-option-paved highways of Silicon Valley. I looked around at the drivers around us, knowing they hadn’t a clue about what was happening right beside them. Traffic was getting thick, as rush hour approached. Outside the window, the water of the San Francisco Bay was a dull green, like patinated copper, pitted by tiny waves. A bright blue sky. Our car’s test driver was smiling pleasantly, hands on his thighs, not touching the steering wheel at all.