SAN FRANCISCO – Audi takes its first swing at the electric-vehicle market and – on paper at least – appears to have reached the fences.
It’s clear from the amount of technology packed into the automaker’s new e-tron battery-electric vehicle that this is no compliance car meant only to satisfy emissions and fuel-economy requirements in markets around the world. Instead the e-tron is positioned squarely at the heart of the growing CUV market and is expected, officials say, to compete head on with all conventionally powered models in its size and price class.
Audi isn’t projecting sales, but executives say the automaker for now is geared up to build 200 e-trons per day for global markets on a dedicated line at its new Brussels, Belgium, factory.
“We have options to increase that, if demand is there,” Ulrich Widmann, chief operating officer-Technical Development, tells reporters at a backgrounder here ahead of the new model’s unveil.
The five-passenger e-tron CUV is packed with a fast-charging, high-powered battery and innovative braking and all-wheel-drive systems.
Based on a heavily modified version of the MLB platform that underpins the A8, Q8 and a handful of other Audis, the e-tron is about the size of a Q7 and will be priced closer to the more expensive Q8, not counting the $7,500 tax incentive in the U.S. It measures 193 ins. (4,902 mm) in overall length, 76.3 ins. (1,938 mm) wide and 65.5 ins. (1,664 mm) high and has a 115.1-in. (2,924 mm) wheelbase.
Its most distinctive exterior features are the platinum-gray enclosed grille and unique LED headlights that incorporate four horizontal struts along their lower edge, similar to charging-status indicators. At the rear, the taillights are designed to look like a full battery-charge indicator, and four cross-slats in the rear diffuser are meant to draw attention to the absence of tailpipes. All these styling elements signal the e-tron’s identity as a battery-powered vehicle.
Much attention was focused on aerodynamics. Helping to reduce drag is the aluminum plate that protects the car’s battery. It is attached using screw connection points recessed in a way that creates minor vortices that improve air flow. Standard 20-in. wheels also are aerodynamically efficient, as are the special low-rolling resistant tires.
Further improving aero on Euro-spec models is the absence of sideview mirrors, replaced by exterior cameras and screens mounted inside the doors. Audi is lobbying with U.S. and Chinese regulatory officials to allow use of the cameras in those markets, as well, but so far has not succeeded. Their application cuts the coefficient of drag from 0.28 to 0.27, Widmann says.
Inside, the e-tron is styled to convey performance, intelligence and lightness, the automaker says. There’s a wraparound dashboard that houses Audi’s virtual cockpit instrumentation, plus two MMI touch-response screens angled toward the driver. When off, the upper screen blends nearly invisibly into the large black-panel surface. The center console features a “floating” hand rest that incorporates the gear selector that can be operated with what the automaker says is a “one-touch action” using the thumb and index finger.
Total luggage capacity is 28.5 cu.-ft. (807 L), double that with the rear seats folded down.
The e-tron is fueled by a 95-kWh battery that powers two electric motors that deliver 0-60 mph (97 km/h) acceleration in 5.5 seconds and a top speed of 124 mph (200 km/h). Maximum torque is generated in just 250 milliseconds, Audi says.
Range has not been certified for the U.S. yet, but on the European WLTP cycle, the e-tron achieves more than 248 miles (400 km), officials say.
Positioned at each axle, the two asynchronous motors provide all-wheel drive when needed. The motors operate free from magnetic drag torque during coasting to maximize efficiency. Normally, the e-tron is driven via the rear axle, but the front motor kicks in when more power or traction is needed.
Both motors can recover energy via braking recuperation when the accelerator is released or when the brake pedal is depressed. In the latter case, the electronic control unit determines how much brake pressure to apply and how much braking the electric motors can supply. Up to 0.3 g of braking can be performed by the electric motors alone, covering more than 90% of typical braking scenarios, the automaker says. It estimates as much as 30% of the e-tron’s range is supplied by the motor/braking system. The driver will not notice any difference in pedal feel, because a simulator provides the same feedback no matter if the brakes or motors are slowing the car.
The driver can select the degree of energy recovery from three settings via the steering-wheel-mounted paddles.
A standard heat pump uses the waste heat from the electrical components to help warm the interior when needed, sparing up to 10% of battery range.
Torque vectoring, via brief braking at each of the rear wheels, adds dynamic control. Traction controls and a four-stage electronic stabilization control that includes sport and off-road modes, offer further enhancements, as does the standard adjustable air suspension with adaptive dampers. Ride height can be adjusted up to 3.0 ins. (76 mm). In off-road mode, ground clearance is increased 1.4 ins. (35 mm), but the driver can increase that another 0.6 ins. (15 mm) by activating the body “raise” function in the Audi drive-select system.
The e-tron’s battery pack, mounted below the floor, measures 90 ins. (228 cm) long, 63.6 ins. (163 cm) wide and 13.4 ins. (34 cm) high. It contains 36 cell modules in square aluminum housings, each about the size of a shoe box, arranged on two levels, known as “floors” – a longer lower floor and a shorter upper one. At market launch, each module is equipped with twelve pouch cells having a flexible outer skin of aluminum-coated polymer. However, the pack is designed to use prismatic cells as well, giving Audi sourcing flexibility.
The battery operates at 396V and stores 95 kWh of energy. The cooling system consists of flat aluminum extruded sections divided uniformly into small chambers. Heat is exchanged by way of a thermally conductive gel pressed beneath each cell module, transferring the waste head evenly to the coolant via the battery housing.
The weight of the battery system, including the housing pan, is 1,543 lbs. (700 kg). It is attached to the underbody at 35 points, increasing torsional rigidity.
The pack sets a new bar for charging, with capability to DC fast charge at up to 150 kW, surpassing Tesla models, as well as the new Jaguar I-Pace and Hyundai Kona’s 100-kW acceptance rate. That means it can replenish 80% of its battery range in 30 minutes, using the ultra-high-speed chargers that are beginning to appear in Europe and the U.S. and are rated at up to 350 kW. Highly flexible thermal management helps maintain a long battery operating life despite the high charging rates, Audi says.
Volkswagen Group’s Electrify America arm is setting up a network of 350-kW chargers in the U.S. as part of its settlement in its diesel-emissions scandal and is expected to have 500 sites completed by next July. E-tron buyers will get 1,000 kWh of free charging at EA sites over four years of ownership.
AC charging is at a rate of 9.6 kW using a 240V line. E-tron buyers will have the opportunity to equip their homes with a digitally controlled 240V NEMA charger through a special deal with Amazon. The charger can be controlled using the myAudi app. Audi says it is exploring two-way charging for the future that would allow its BEVs to feed energy back to the grid or to be used as generators to provide electricity to a home if power is lost.
The e-tron is slated to arrive in the U.S. in second-quarter 2019 and will be sold nationwide. Pricing starts at $74,800 for the Premium Plus model. A Prestige model that adds head-up display, massaging seats and other upscale trim starts at $81,800.
To celebrate the launch of its first BEV, a special First Edition model ($86,700) will be available, limited to 999 units in the U.S.. It includes special paint and accents, plus unique leather trim.
Those interested in purchasing can reserve a model with a refundable $1,000 deposit. Those customers can then track their orders online.
In Europe, Audi says it already has 10,000 reservations from potential buyers.