With car buyers, federal regulators and the media questioning the safety of electronic controls in automobiles in light of the sudden-acceleration scandal engulfing Toyota Motor Corp., Audi of America Inc. is set to enter the debate.

Later this year, the importer will send an Audi TTS up to the top of Pikes Peak in Colorado — without a driver.

Dubbed the Autonomous Audi TTS, the car is a result of a collaboration between Audi's Electronic Research Laboratory in Palo Alto, CA, and Stanford University and will be designed to prove “these (electronic) technologies deserve our customers' trust,” says Audi of America President Johan de Nysschen.

“Vehicle electronics have become the subject of much discussion and doubt,” de Nysschen tells the Automotive Press Assn. in Detroit, alluding to the controversy embroiling Toyota. “Lost in this conversation is the fact these electronics — when tested rigorously and deployed effectively — don't get in the way of safe driving; they dramatically improve it.”

De Nysschen says the event could spawn a viral campaign that demonstrates Audi's technological prowess.

He also pledges to make his company's brake-override technology available to any auto maker interested in deploying similar electronics to ensure power is cut to the engine when the brakes are activated. Audi is in favor of a national standard requiring such an override, he says.

De Nysschen offers some support to Toyota, which has been accused of not responding quickly enough to complaints of vehicle defects, saying it is often hard to determine whether complaints in the field are legitimate “or merely people having a rant.”

With the Internet, “each consumer is now a mass marketer,” he says.