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Roundtable: Talking Audi’s Electric Future in LA

During their Los Angeles Auto Show Press Conference, Audi of America President Scott Keogh said that the brand expects between 20 and 25% of their total sales by the year 2025 to be vehicles that feature pure electric drivetrains, or electronic assistence in the form of plug-in hybrid technology.  Being just 10 years out from that goal with only the A3 e-tron and Q5 hybrid currently thus far filling that role here in the USA, it seems that Audi has quite a long way to go.  With that in mind, we sat down with Audi’s director of electric powertrains Siegfried Pint and Audi of America director of product planning Filip Brabec to speak more in-depth about the brand’s electrified future.

After talking to the two just briefly, it quickly becomes apparent that 2018 is the magic year for the brand’s electric mobility strategy, as the cost and range capability of batteries will fall to a level that makes the technology not only affordable, but quite practical as well.  As such, it’s also the year that Audi will release their production version of the e-tron quattro that we’ve seen in Frankfurt and now Los Angeles, an electrified model with a range of 300 miles on a single charge and the mainstream appeal of a full size crossover, doing everything in their power to ensure that the unnamed model become a volume seller.

It’s “less about is this comparable to something else, more is this a cool car?” says Brabec, and the strategy makes sense.  As these technologies become more mainstream, there really isn’t a need to stand out in the ways electric and hybrid cars do today.  Think more Tesla Model S, and less Toyota Mirai, as Audi’s future vehicles will remain distinctive without being outlandish.  But while we all know that Audi is very much a design-driven brand, the heart of the experience is in driving dynamics.  Enter Siegfried Pint, who’s been tasked with using this newfound electric power to transform the driving experience.

Using a three motor system (one up front, two out back), Audi will retain quattro functionality, but also be able to torque vector on a completely new level.  Pint says that Audi’s system can send “a few hundred” newton-meters to each rear wheel independently, resulting in a car that not only feels much lighter, but will also be much more responsive than any other vehicle in its weight class.  Couple this with pre-tension driveshaft technology and traditional suspension tuning strategies, and driving enthusiasts should not be disappointed.

But while Pint certainly sees the advantages of electric mobility, he also sees the limitations.  Unlike a traditional combustion engine, engineers can’t simply turn up the boost or increase compression to make more power.  Instead they must add battery power, which greatly increases weight.  Due to this, S and RS models will not see electrification as a replacement for displacement- at least not at first.  The ranges will instead see further exploration of forced induction techniques, quite possibly with electronically assisted turbochargers or superchargers.  Even still, the gains to be had from a torque vectoring system that leverages a 1-2 electric motor layout are undeniable.


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