Audi's On-Again, Off-Again Electric Plans Reflect an Uncertain Market
Audi’s electric car plans look like shifting sand, but that shouldn’t be surprising given the cloudy crystal ball that is the EV market in early 2013. The latest word is that the A2 e-tron isn’t going anywhere, but the previously R.I.P. high-performance R8 etron may have some limited life at the high end of the spectrum.
Audi's Plugged-In Plans
Audi’s talking about this, but only via statements. Here’s what we got from Audi AG about the company’s electric plans:
“Audi has a long-range view of electric cars. The company is keeping a close eye on the everyday suitability of electric vehicles. As you know, testing of the A3 e-tron pilot program underway in the U.S. is informing e-tron production decisions. In 2014, Audi will offer the A3 plug-in hybrid, the technically most sophisticated version of alternative propulsion systems.”
Further, the company says:
“By testing a range of technology—from TDI [diesel] production vehicles to the e-tron pilot program—Audi is keeping a very close eye on how important criteria for the everyday suitability of electric vehicles are developing, such as operating range, capacity and battery price. Audi is working intensively to offer plug-in technology in volume production with the A3 e-tron PHEV in 2014.”
An Unsettled Market
Basically, Audi is saying that it’s somewhat leery of the market for pure electric cars, but it thinks that plug-in hybrids are commercially viable. The very phrase “pilot program” is one way of deferring a production decision on the A3 electric.
In a test drive in New York City last June, I found the battery version of the A3, well, electrifying:
The A3 e-tron is quiet, rattle-free, and leaps off the line, especially in performance mode. A nice feature, which shows what you can do with modern electronics, is a three-second hill hold: The car stays where it is for that length of time when you lift off the brakes, then starts rolling. It has excellent stopping power—if the brakes didn’t work, I’d have probably merged it with a lunging New York cab.
But that’s not the version that’s going into production. With a 26-kilowatt-hour pack, the battery car had 94 miles of range and a top speed of 90. That’s not bad for battery cars today, but Audi hasn’t yet concluded it’s ready for the mass market.
The A2: Just a Concept
Another non-starter is the aluminum-frame A2, which Autocar said had been planned for 2015 production, in both battery and plug-in hybrid versions. The magazine said that the decision canning the A2 was “part of a growing mood in the auto industry that the market for pure electric vehicles is likely to be much smaller than predicted.”
Audi says that production of the A2 was never in the cards. “The Audi A2 e-tron, which was shown in Frankfurt in 2011, was intended as a concept car only,” the company said. “The Audi A2 concept provides a preview of electric driving in the megacities of the future. Audi has never confirmed series production of the A2 concept. Therefore, recent reports speculating it has been canceled are incorrect.”
There’s a gray area here, because Audi officials may well have waxed optimistic about production of the A2 etron after a few drinks at an auto show, but because the company never officially confirmed it deniability is plausible.
An Exclusive R8?
The picture is much more optimistic with the R8, which is likely to get pulses racing in much the same manner as the latest from Tesla Motors. It can reach 62 mph in 4.2 seconds, and has an electronically limited 124 mph top speed. Audi of America’s Mark Dahncke told AutoblogGreen, “The R8 E-Tron project may still be continued in a very small volume of cars that has yet to be decided. What has been decided is that it will not be executed on a large scale production basis.”
What Audi tells me is that it has already produced a small series of R8 e-trons “primarily for internal use and testing only” and that it hasn’t decided when and if the car “will be made available to consumers.” Audi’s enthusiast website Fourtitude describes the car as “on hold,” and comments, “It is possible that the R8 e-tron could see very limited series production, though its assured status seems to no longer be the case.”
Audi, and other companies, too, have a way of talking about their electrics as important test beds for the internal-combustion volume leaders. “The R8 e-tron features many technical highlights, some of which will appear in other series-production projects and model lines,” Audi said. These tech highlights include battery management, multi-material lightweight construction, heat pump, OLED rear-view mirror and fiber-composite suspension springs.
With Audi's e-trons, there's no guarantee. Just plenty of maybes.
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