So much for Audi’s “Tesla killer” – no e-tron inventory for US dealers

Mea culpa. Fooled again.

Audi must have dropped several million bucks at a recent extravaganza in San Francisco, all for the launch of the e-tron, the brand’s first pure electric model, and it convinced this correspondent that this time, the company was serious about selling an EV in volume. Then came the news that Audi does not plan to ship any inventory vehicles to its US dealers.

Audi of America President Scott Keogh tried to put a positive spin on the decision, implying that saving the cost of maintaining an inventory was the only way Audi could make a profit on the EV. “I think it would be a beautiful world if you can go to a dealer – and we’d like to find that beautiful world – with zero floorplan [expense] and proper, full gross on the car,” quoth he. “This would be a beautiful state; so let’s go see if we can find this dream state.”

The situation isn’t quite as bleak as Keogh’s self-defeating sarcasm (and outraged responses from some of the EV press) makes it sound. Dealers will have demonstrator models on hand, and they will have the option of ordering e-trons for their own inventory (I expect some California dealers to do so, based on a conversation I had at the launch event with one of those dealers, who was enthusiastic about selling the e-tron).

However, the sales model Audi is proposing is that customers will place orders for the e-tron at dealerships or on Audi’s web site, held by refundable $1,000 deposits. Keogh said that wait times for delivery will depend on global demand, and could be months or even a year or more. All e-trons will be built at Audi’s assembly plant in Brussels.

Keogh told Automotive News that Audi’s dealer network will give the brand “a massive competitive advantage” over other EV-makers. At the launch event, one of the 300 dealers present told me that it would be interesting to see Tesla “fade away” as the e-tron came into its own. I responded to that comment with a wry smile, which has now evolved into a sad head-shake.

Yes, an established dealer network is a good thing, but dealers are famously focused on closing sales quickly – put your money on the table and drive it off the lot. They’re not likely to be thrilled about a put-down-a-deposit-and-wait sales model. And so far, most dealers haven’t proven to be enthusiastic EV-sellers. On the contrary, they’re often cited as one of the main bottlenecks standing in the way of wider EV adoption.

As other automakers have, Audi may be falling into the error of assuming that EVs are only bought by a subset of the market called “EV buyers.” Of course such people exist, and a few of them will surely order an e-tron. But any automaker that wants to sell an EV in volume needs to reach buyers who haven’t considered an EV before, and it’s hard to see how an Audi dealer is going to convince many of them to put down a grand and wait a few months for an e-tron when they can drive a perfectly good gas-powered Audi home right now.


Source: Automotive News

  • Robert (Electricman) Weekley

    If the Audi EV is as good as they pitched it, “when they can drive a perfectly good gas-powered Audi home right now.”, might be solved in a decent test drive, not just a once around the block drive!

  • James Heires

    Wimpy, wimpy, wimpy! Yet another case of a short-sighted OEM making decisions that will basically tank their own EV market opportunities. If VW/Audi had any guts, they would go at the EV market with gusto – not tippy-toe-ing their way in…Go Tesla!

  • Brock Nanson

    The first hint that they aren’t serious about building EV’s is probably the ICE-style grill on the front. If they can’t embrace the blank canvas an EV drivetrain represents, and paint something new and original, they’re likely doomed to fail.

    • Jimmy Canzoniero

      The idea that EVs can’t use a grill is just wrong. There’s no engine take but the batteries require plenty of cooling, you can also route air down and out to cool the brakes, and you can route air through the floor for aero reasons.

      Tesla gets rid of it but we already know they have poor thermal management and major brake fade issues. They’re not designed to be driven hard for longer than ten seconds on a drag strip.

  • Maarten Vinkhuyzen

    Audi is a globally operating commercial company.
    EV will be production constrained for the coming years.
    I think it is logical and defendable that Audi chooses the sales model with the least costs and the highest margin.

    One that has the added bonus of treating all Audi customers equal. Why should Audi place unsold cars on a dealers lot when that same car can be used to fulfill a customer order that has been open for months?

    If the USA customers are not willing to be treated like the customers in the rest of the world, by ordering and waiting for their car to be produced, then they have to wait until the world-wide battery production is at a level that it becomes commercially interesting to put unsold cars on dealers lots. Until that time they will only have Tesla as a nation-wide volume supplier of electric cars.

    It is not only Audi who is not exporting to the USA what they can sell easier in other places in the world. Hyundai, Kia, VW, Jaguar, Volvo, Mercedes, will be doing the exact same thing. First Europe and Asia, what is left (if any) can go to the USA.