Audi Unveils the E-Tron, Its First of 10 All-Electric Vehicles

By · September 20, 2018

2019 Audi e-tron

Audi unveiled the all-electric e-tron sports utility vehicle this week, the brand’s first pure EV. It’s been nearly a decade since the company’s exhilarating electric R8 sports car was introduced—and three years since the battery-powered e-tron Quattro concept was first shown. Those vehicles generated a lot of excitement among auto enthusiasts and EV fans alike. But the e-tron that was revealed in San Francisco this week was aimed at wider appeal.

“What we nailed down four years ago is that it would be a mid-size SUV,” Anthony Foulk, Audi senior product manager, told me. “We wanted it to be in the heart of the fastest-growing segment of the market.”

Foulk’s comment is the key to understanding the Audi e-tron electric SUV, which goes on sale in mid-2019. While it employs cool design flourishes inside and out—and a brisk 5.5-second pace from zero to 60 m.p.h.— Audi’s first EV is mostly about demonstrating how a battery-powered car can be your one and only car.

2019 Audi e-tron

“We haven't made a niche vehicle,” said Matthew Mostafaei, Audi E-Tron vehicle manager, when I spoke with him on Monday. “We made one that we believe will have wide appeal. We are in the middle of the market, and that's where the volume is.” He said that the e-tron has utility, space, and usability. “We want this to be a family's first car, something they can live with every day,” Mostafaei said.

Not a Small Crossover

The 2019 Audi e-tron slots between the Q5 and Q7 in the brand’s SUV lineup. As one of the company’s slides indicated, it’s bigger than the similar electric crossovers soon available from Jaguar, BMW, and Mercedes. And it 95 kilowatt-hour pack is nearly as big as the Tesla Model X’s largest battery while outsizing the X’s 75-kWh variant. Official driving range numbers for the Audi e-tron are not yet available. But on Monday Audi released its price, which begins at $74,800 (before destination charges and a $7,500 tax credit).

As seen by the image of the camouflaged vehicle, the 2019 Audi e-tron sits right in the middle of SUV dimensions.

That puts the net starting price for the full-size sport utility at about $67,000. Audi upped the ante by including a compact Level 2 charging station with the e-tron. As experienced EV drivers know, the rationale for a home charging station’s $500 price tag is sometimes justified by putting a small clump of electronics into an oversized mostly empty box. Meanwhile, the form factor of the Level 1 portable charging station that’s included with all EVs is big enough to house the necessary components for Level 2, 240-volt charging. Buyers of the Audi e-tron won’t pay more for the 9.6-kW home-charging device, which can be carried with the car or snapped into place in a wall frame.

The e-tron's portable and dockable Level 2 charger comes with the car.

In another step toward the normalization of EVs, the e-tron’s battery pack is built to withstand giant 150-kW jolts of power from highway charging stations. That means 180 miles of added range in 30 minutes—with the promise of 350-kW chargers cutting that down to 10 or 15 minutes within a few years. Electrify America, a wholly owned subsidiary of Volkswagen (Audi’s parent company), is rolling out 500 of these charging stations every year for the next four years. All EVs, not just Audi vehicles, will have access. And after a brief period of needing a RFID card, the Electrify America stations would use a credit card just like a gas pump. No charging network membership or special card required.

Just Getting Started

While the unveiling of the e-tron might seem like the end of a journey, it’s only the beginning of Audi’s EV program. The Audi brand plans to produce 10 battery-powered cars in the next seven years. Expect a sportback version of the e-tron by late 2019—and GT and compact models in 2020.

Hopefully one of those future e-tron versions will put two motors on the rear axle, as promised by the 2015 concept model. The e-tron model unveiled this week is a two-motor affair—one motor only on each axle.

Am I asking too much? Maybe for the first iteration, but my expectations were raised when I spoke in 2016 with Audi’s Siegfried Pint at the 2016 Detroit Auto Show about the magic of three motors. At that time, Pint, a former F1 engineer, had been less than a year in his role as Audi’s electric powertrain chief, after playing a lead strategy and engineering role for BMW’s electric cars. He’s since been promoted to technical director of powertrain integration at Audi—a clear sign that the brand is deadly serious about mass electrification of the brand’s product line. (Audi’s Mostafaei also previously worked on BMW electric cars.)

With two motors on a single axle, any slippage would be rebalanced in a split second. Understeering and oversteering can be compensated by small power boosts—not braking.

“You need three motors,” said Pint in Detroit. “If I have separate motors, I can adjust slip on a tire directly and immediately. This gives me the chance to solve the conflict of goals between safety and dynamics.” Pint said that any drawbacks of added weight from an EV’s heavy battery could be transferred to an advantage in terms of driving dynamics. “I can be super safe and super quick,” he said. “You don’t have to be a race car driver.”

2019 Audi e-tron

Perhaps Audi is withholding a three-motor EV for one of its future vehicles. At an Audi-sponsored tech roundtable in San Francisco this week, I asked Dr. Ulrich Widmann, the company’s chief operating officer for technical development, about the next steps for Audi EVs. “The next platform has to be powerful and game-changing, so we are having a lot of discussions about what it is,” answered Widmann.

He went on: “You are never at the end. Today I think we are a step forward. We always have to invest in technology so that we stay ahead. We always have to make a car today, and in the background, we have to work on the car that is coming in five years. It's always a race. And it's a marathon.”

Today’s step forward is tangible. Online reservations are now available for the company’s first EV—a fast, spacious, and attractive Audi all-wheel-drive SUV capable of about 250 miles on a single charge.

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