The mainstreaming of electric cars took a big step forward when the Volkswagen Group, the largest global automobile manufacturer, unveiled the Audi e-tron in late September. The rollout of the electric sport utility offers a window into how car manufacturers with global scale will approach the electric market. And for the first time, a major maker has a mass-market car aimed directly to rival Tesla. It will be on the streets next year.
The Audi rollout includes a collaboration between Audi and Amazon offering “Audi Home Charging powered by Amazon Home Services,” which provides the ability to arrange home charging equipment installation effortlessly. A 9.6W AC capsule charger (Level 2, 240-volt,40 amp) is provided for home charging, with a full charge that can be delivered to the car overnight. This equipment includes plugs that are compatible with 120-volt household outlets in addition to a faster-charging, 240-volt NEMA 14-50 outlet.
One large issue the industry has faced over the past few years is to ensure that charging infrastructure is plentiful and efficient for all variety of automobiles. Seeing large-scale manufacturers like VW decide to support their EV market share with charging equipment will increase the likelihood that future charging infrastructure will be sufficient.
Audi, working around the challenge of dealerships that have historically been slow to support electric cars, has developed a direct-to-consumer online reservation system. It allows buyers to track the progress of their automobile, both online and through a dealer. Customers can reserve a car for a $1,000 refundable deposit, with customer deliveries estimated for the second quarter for 2019.
The Audi e-tron is the first of three electric vehicles slated to be announced in the manufacturer’s lineup by 2020. It expects one in three U.S. Audi consumers to drive a battery-powered electric vehicle by 2025, which would amount to an estimated 800,000 units globally. By comparison, Tesla reports that in 2017 it delivered a total of 103,020 vehicles globally. Audi sold a total of 1.87 million units.
As part of its electric push into the United States, the Volkswagen Group launched a program called Electrify America in 2016, to manage its $2 billion investment program in support of zero emissions vehicle (ZEV) technology in the US. The move came soon after its infamous “Dieselgate” emissions scandal. A 500-station VW charging network with 2,800 total connections is scheduled to be in 17 of the nation’s largest cities by June 2019.
The e-tron, with an announced ability to charge to 150 kW, at the mid-to-high range of electric cars, shows Audi is pushing to make the EV ownership experience more convenient. Of the $2 billion VW electric vehicle investment in the United States, $800M will be spent in California alone, the largest ZEV marketplace in the world.
The e-tron itself pushes auto technology forward in a number of ways. The next generation Audi Digital Cockpit features a highly customizable instrumentation display mounted in front of the driver’s seating position. Two LCDs control infotainment and climate control features in the center stack, with diagonal screens of 10.1 inches and 8.6 inches. Audi’s MMI Navigation Plus software will come standard, along with a suite of connected car services including an LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, predictive destinations based upon previous journeys and smart route planning that will take into consideration the vehicle’s charging needs. Audi will also be the first manufacturer to include Integrated Toll Module (ITM) hardware, which will be built into the rearview mirror. That allows for electronic billing with any toll collection system like the Northeast’s EZ Pass, replacing unsightly stick-on devices. This feature will be standard on the e-tron and was developed by Gentex, an organization known for auto-dimming mirrors, and other modern automotive creature comforts.
A 7” virtual mirror represents a significant step forward in the automotive industry, in or out of electric vehicles. Cameras mounted where exterior sideview mirrors would otherwise be will broadcast an adjustable image into the passenger compartment. This will enable additional visibility and the elimination of blind spots, even as it helps reduce drag and wind noise. However, don’t expect to see this feature on e-trons sold in the U.S. immediately, since it does not conform with existing U.S. vehicle standards. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C., has petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to allow automobile manufacturers to replace side view mirrors with cameras.
Matthew McIvor is an auto journalist based in Cooperstown, New York. His travel costs for the California launch of the e-tron were paid by Audi.