With A6 Plug-in Hybrid, Audi Moves to Full Electrified Lineup

By · April 24, 2012

Audi A6 e-tron plug-in hybrid concept unveiling in Beijing

Audi A6 e-tron plug-in hybrid concept unveiling in Beijing

There are many electric car projects at Volkswagen. They extend from a small city car to a supercar. The small car is the E-Up, which we've seen as a concept last year, and which should be launched sometime next year. Next is the electric Golf. That is the Golf Blue-e-Motion, which will be launched in 2013. Its electric motor will be shared with other models built on the Golf platform, such as the Beetle. Also, Audi will later this year show the first regular production electric supercar, the R8 e-tron. But there was something new and unexpected at the Beijing auto show this week: a plug-in hybrid Audi A6 sedan.

It is possible to buy a hybrid version of the A6 sedan in Europe. It has a 211-horsepower gas engine and a 40-kW electric motor in a parallel hybrid configuration. It works pretty much the same way as a Toyota Prius, except that it has a conventional automatic transmission, with a torque converter, instead of a CVT. It has an electric mode, which the driver can activate at will, but it's hardly useful. It's only good for about a mile-and-a-half at slow speed.

The A6 e-tron promises much more, with more beef on the electric side. The 40-kW electric motor has been replaced with a 70-kW unit. It still doesn't sound like a lot for a car the size of an A6, but it should prove enough for all city and suburban driving, and that would suit many drivers. The gas engine would only be used on highways. The battery has grown too, but Audi doesn't say by how much. The company does say that this A6 e-tron can drive about 50 miles at a constant speed around 35-mph on pure electric power. With its sleek body, the A6 must not need much energy to drive at that speed. A Chevrolet Volt has probably more range, but hey, this is a German car.

Audi A6 e-tron plug-in hybrid concept at the Beijing motor show

Audi A6 e-tron plug-in hybrid concept at the Beijing motor show

In the country of the Autobahn, people make a clear difference between what a car needs for driving in the city, and the requirements for performing on the highway. We have yet to see an electric car suited for sustained high speed driving, and this plug-in hybrid certainly doesn't have that goal. The BMW i8, though completely different, shares pretty much the same principle. It offers moderate but sufficient all electric power for driving in the city, with the gas engine kicking in as soon as the car gets on the highway, or when the driver floors the accelerator. Of course, it's possible to "lock" the car in electric mode, but normally, it's a computer saying what's the most efficient to power the car.

Audi A6 e-tron plug-in hybrid concept at the Beijing motor show

Audi A6 e-tron plug-in hybrid concept at the Beijing motor show

The big question for now: What is this car? Is it merely a concept or something more? There's little indication at this time. The car has been built on the Chinese version of the A6, which is four inches longer than the normal model—so that rear passengers have more legroom, but there isn't a word about prototypes driving in Germany with the standard A6 body. Actually, it's probably too early to say what comes next. The Audi A6 hybrid has just been launched in Europe. We'll see how many orders it gets by the end of the year. The Prius plug-in—offering a bit more electricity to an existing hybrid model—may also give a clue. How many people will pay a significant extra to extend driving in electric mode from one mile to a dozen or more? We don't know yet, but we'll see. Hopefully, Audi will be quick to reply.

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