Audi Promises First Plug-in Diesel for United States

By · December 15, 2014

2016 Audi Q7

Faster, slimmer Audi Q7 will have a diesel plug-in option, sometime in late 2015.

Audi will introduce a new more powerful, lighter and more fuel-efficient version of its Q7 sports utility vehicle at the 2015 Detroit auto show in January. Here’s the big news for plug-in fans: the new Q7 will be offered with a powerful one-two combination of plug-in capability and a 3-liter V-6 diesel engine.

The Audi Q7 E-tron Quattro—which will come sometime after the no-plug gas-powered version arrives in early 2015—will be a beast of an SUV: cranking 369 horsepower and 516 pounds-feet of torque from the diesel-electric combo.

In Perspective

The news is big and the specs are impressive—but the impact on the plug-in movement, when the Q7 E-tron arrives, might be less than spectacular. The promise of combining the outsized torque and efficiency of electric motors and diesel engines has been out there for years—with few vehicles actually on the road. The diesel plug-in Volvo V60 debuted in Europe last year, with a decent 10,000 units sold. We still don’t know for sure when the V60 diesel PHEV will come to the United States. (See our reporting on the car’s prospects in America.)

The double-whammy obstacle facing a diesel-plug-in in the U.S. is American’s odd reluctance to adopt diesel cars—even with all the torque and efficiency they provide—and the bigger issue of cost: The Volvo V60 diesel plug-in variant sells for the equivalent of around $70,000. A Q7 E-Tron will likely come in around the same price, if not higher.

While many plug-in fans are pining for a relatively affordable EV with at least double the 80-mile range of many small electric cars available today, the news of the Q7 E-tron points to an emerging counter-trend: expensive luxury plug-in hybrid models. In November, Porsche reported the first month of sales of the $100,000 Cayenne S-E. Hopefully, the numbers will grow from the first month tally of 45 units. The pricier BMW i8, at $135,000, managed 126 sales in November. BMW is talking about plug-in versions of many of its models, including the X5 SUV.

Of course, the purely electric Tesla Model X will be among this class. In typical Tesla style, the company is promising much higher production numbers. Perhaps these European luxury automakers were inspired to put up some competition to Tesla and the X, even if the size of the market for six-figure electric SUVs and large sedans is small.

Audi executives have also talked about a diesel-plug-in version of the A8 sedan, promising to be another impressive but ultra-expensive vehicle. Yet, the move toward TDI-PHEVs plays to the strength of Audi’s diesel engines, which over time, could be increasingly paired to a plug-in hybrid powertrain. Audi CEO Rupert Stadler told Automotive News, “We strongly believe in plug-in hybrids.”

The news of a couple of Audi diesel plug-in hybrids, following next year’s introduction of the more modest Audi A3 gas-electric E-tron, puts another milestone in the road for German automakers attempting to make a tangible (if not high-volume) contribution to vehicle electrification. For well-heeled buyers, the plug-in hybrids from Audi, Porsche, BMW and Volvo will be among the most desirable high-tech electron-powered marvels on the road. Average combined fuel-efficiency for these vehicles is likely to be around 100 miles per gallon equivalent.

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