This time, it feels different. We long-suffering EV journalists have been snookered time and again – automakers have launched new EVs, and we’ve covered them with enthusiasm and optimism, only to be disappointed when the companies failed to market them, and turned them into low-volume compliance cars. Ford, Volkswagen, Mercedes, Kia, Audi and others have been down this road.
This time however, the stars are aligned for the 2019 Audi e-tron (along with the Jaguar I-Pace and upcoming models from Mercedes and VW) to set off a new wave of mainstream EVs that will change the dynamics of the auto market forever. Tesla’s takeover of the luxury sedan market seems to have convinced the upscale German brands to get serious about their EV programs, vast new charging networks such as Electrify America and Ionity (in Europe) are promising an end to range anxiety, and Audi’s electric technology has progressed to the point that it can offer an EV with “no compromises” in terms of performance and comfort.
Audi pulled out all the stops for the e-tron launch event, grandiosely named The Charge. 1,600 guests were invited, including financial analysts, 300 US dealers (a promising development), and of course media from all over the world. The extravaganza featured not only the usual sound-and-light show, puffy speeches, oceans of liquor and shoals of shrimp, but a tech exhibit at which I was pleasantly surprised to be able to interview some of the engineers who designed the new vehicle, and glean quite a bit of interesting technical information (more on this in the next issue of Charged).
Audi’s new medium-size SUV features a bottom-mounted 95 kWh, 36-module battery pack with LG Chem cells and a novel cooling system, along with two asynchronous motors, all designed and produced in-house by Audi. It offers all the latest and greatest comfort and driver-assistance features and a couple of world firsts, including virtual rear-view mirrors (these will only be available in Europe for now, thanks to US regulations). Most of the functions are controlled by touchscreens – not a single big screen a la Tesla, but slick-looking smaller screens located where the knobs and buttons would usually be – an elegant melding of old and new.
Is this the “Tesla-killer” that so many of my credulous colleagues are predicting? No. The new Audi appears to be an excellent vehicle, but its performance and range fall short of the standards Tesla has set, and as I have explained at length elsewhere, neither Audi nor any of the other legacy automakers have fully committed to electrification – at the show, Audi reiterated its modest goal of making electrified vehicles a third of its sales by 2025. However, this impressive new vehicle can certainly be described as a Tesla competitor or rival. That’s a big step forward, and Audi promises that it’s only the beginning.
The 2019 Audi e-tron is to go on sale in the US in the second quarter of 2019, starting at $74,800.