Audi has set up a new division to develop and produce a range of high-priced “e-tron” electric cars starting in 2012.
The e-tron subbrand’s first vehicle will be based on an electric sports car concept shown at the Frankfurt auto show last autumn.
Insiders said Audi also is likely to approve production of a smaller e-tron sports car concept unveiled at the Detroit auto show in January. Both cars will have an e-tron badge but also will have individual names.
“You can assume we’ll have not just one but two or three or even more electric cars,” said Filip Brabec, general manager of product planning for Audi of America.
The e-tron unit has about 100 employees and is headed by Franciscus van Meel, senior vice president of vehicle electrification at Audi AG in Ingolstadt, Germany.
Production of the Frankfurt car, which uses the underpinnings of the two-seat R8 supercar and is similar in size and shape, will begin at 100 units a year, Audi CEO Rupert Stadler said.
Volume is expected to grow to 1,000 units, but Audi executives did not provide further details about volume plans.
Initial e-tron production will be low.
“We want to listen to the customer,” Stadler said. “It will be a different experience with the electric car in terms of usage, noise, torque quality and our engineers need to get familiar with customer needs.”
Audi already has a working prototype of the first electric car, Stadler said. He also said “it would make sense” for Audi to build the concept shown in Detroit, which is similar in size to the TT sports car.
Audi’s plan for the e-tron development unit
- First e-tron-badged electric sports car due in 2012
- Initial production of 100 cars, ramping up to 1,000
- Second electric car likely to be approved
Audi’s electric car approach is different from that of rival BMW, which is developing smaller vehicles designed for urban commuting.
“Our intention is to combine the electric drivetrain with a lot of emotion and sportiness,” Stadler said.
Audi of America President Johan de Nysschen said Audi will price its first e-tron vehicles high because lithium ion battery technology is expensive and needs further development. He said the first car will cost more than any Audi now sold.
Currently, the most expensive Audi is the 5.2 quattro R tronic version of the R8, which is priced at $156,300, including freight.
De Nysschen said he sees Audi developing smaller compact electric cars eventually. “At the other end, electric cars will be more utilitarian short-driving range commuter vehicles,” he said. “These have lower levels of technology and there is a reduced cost.”
De Nysschen said the two poles will converge and a mass-market electric vehicle would hit the price point “where it is more feasible for a family car.”
But for now, he said: “Audi is a high-end brand, and we should start to develop the technology from that end.”