Audi’s e-tron reveal in San Francisco was nothing if not extravagant, involving 1,600 guests from around the world, a sunset cruise across San Francisco Bay in the west coast’s biggest party boat, and several hundred drones hovering in formation to form a giant Audi four-ring symbol in the sky. Who knew drones could even do that?
All this frivolity came after the technical press had spent a full day in wide-ranging tech talks, covering not just the e-tron itself but the entire “ecosystem” it will inhabit.
Audi may be fairly late to the electric-vehicle party – in its luxury habitat, Tesla is old hat, the Jaguar i-Pace is going on sale and Mercedes pre-empted Audi’s big bash by a fortnight to reveal the EQC – but it’s arguably outdoing its main rivals at creating an ecosystem in which its EVs can thrive.
First, though, the vehicle. Audi’s first EV, the e-tron, is a luxury five-passenger SUV built on the same architecture as the Q7. Front and rear axles are each driven by electric motors rated at up to 135 and 165 kW respectively. A 95-kWh battery pack about the size of a double mattress reposes within the wheelbase beneath the floor.
The rear motor is the primary drive, with the front contributing when more power or more traction is needed. Its claimed zero to 60 miles an hour time (or zero to 97 kilometres an hour) is 5.5 seconds.
Audi claims 400 km range based on the new global WLTP test procedure, which is supposedly more realistic than Europe’s outgoing pie-in-the-sky NEDC protocol, although the yet-to-be-revealed U.S. EPA-based range figure is likely to be lower.
Will it be enough? Audi’s boffins have clearly given this a lot of thought, and “We are taking care of the full ecosystem around charging,” fast-charging expert Anno Mertens says.
Compared with stopping at a gas station once or twice a week, “Starting your day with a ‘full tank’ every morning is an asset, not a hurdle,” he continues. When naysayers raise the bogey of charging times, he retorts, “charging takes me 10 seconds a day – five seconds to plug in and five seconds to unplug.”
Mertens says there are 14,000 gas stations in the United States, but that doesn’t mean electric cars will need that many fast-charge stations. “We need to rethink, to look at how the car is used and where the user lives. Home charging represents 85 to 90 [per cent] of user cases.”
With some charging also done at work or while shopping, Mertens reckons only 5 per cent to 10 per cent of charging events will be along the road. “People only do 10 to 20 long-haul trips a year,” he says.
“But they still see range/charging as a deal breaker.”
On average, he says, a stop at a gas station takes seven minutes, so customers expect EV charging times of less than 10 minutes. But those seven-minute gas stops are the routine fill-ups close to home, which wouldn’t exist for EV owners who recharge at home every night.
On long trips, you’ll want to take a break every two or three hours anyway, and the typical stop at an autobahn service area in Germany is 20 to 30 minutes, Mertens says; when hooked up to a claimed industry-first 150-kW charging station, the e-tron can be 80-per-cent recharged in 30 minutes.
Given the lineups at Timmies at a typical service area on the 401, you’ll likely be there at least 30 minutes anyway.
Whether you’re at home or on the road, Audi has plans to keep your e-tron moving as painlessly as possible.
Audi USA has partnered with Amazon Home Services to supply and install 240-volt charging systems in e-tron buyers’ homes. A choice of 11-kW or 22-kW installations promise recharging times of 8.5 or 4.5 hours respectively. Owners could also hook up their own solar panel, or sign up with a renewable-energy retailer such as (in Canada) Bullfrog Power. Audi Canada says the Amazon deal is U.S.-specific.
For away-from-home charging, Audi has a plan that does apply in Canada. A partnership with Electrify America and Electrify Canada is building networks of DC fast-charge stations in both countries. On highways, they will offer 150 or 350 kW chargers and in cities 50 or 150 kW. Electrify Canada is initially targeting 32 sites near major highways and in major metro areas in BC, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.
They will offer both CCS (the format used by Audi) and CHAdeMO connectors, and will be available for use by owners of all EVs, not just VWs and Audis. Charging will cost 30 to 35 cents a minute, paid by a credit-card reader, Electrify America says; plans and costs for Canada are still under development.
Those will be in addition to the thousands of existing public charge points in both countries. In the United States, Audi plans to offer a single contract that enables use of, and payment for, 72,000 points from 220 operators, all from one RFID card or QR code. Audi Canada could not say when or whether a similar plan would be offered here.
No Canadian pricing yet, either, but based on the U.S. starting MSRP of $74,800, expect at least $90,000 in Canada. Clearly, e-tron sales alone won’t propel EVs into the mainstream. But Audi plans more than 10 EVs in its portfolio by 2025 “covering almost every relevant segment.” In the meantime, Audi’s evolving EV ecosystem will support the viability of other automakers EVs as well as its own.