E-tron SUV Is Audi’s Big Push Into an Electric Future

Audi unveiled its E-tron battery-electric SUV on Sept. 17, at a large-scale event near San Francisco that signaled the significance of all-electric vehicles for the company’s future.

The E-tron is a five-passenger luxury vehicle priced from $75,800 and scheduled to ship to US buyers in the second quarter of next year. Reservations with a $1,000 deposit opened to the public on Monday.

Like other electric models coming from luxury stalwarts including Mercedes-Benz and BMW, it’s intended to take on Tesla at the high end of the market. Its styling is sleek but invokes cues from other Audi models, with a high-quality but not radical interior featuring three large screens across the dashboard and console. Audi estimates a 0-60mph time of 5.5 seconds. The E-tron’s range has been rated at more than 400 kilometers (248 miles) with the European Union’s Worldwide Light Vehicle Test Procedure. “Optimized battery recuperation” will account for as much as 30% of the car’s range under some conditions, according to the company.

Audi is using the E-tron as a platform for some new technologies, though it’s no science-fiction concept car. Virtual side mirrors, which use miniature cameras in low-profile stalks where the conventional mirrors would be, are designed to reduce drag and improve visibility. These are expected to be the first in the industry, though they’ll be limited to Europe for now.

Another new technology will be a transponder built into the rear-view mirror for paying tolls on some roads in the US and Canada. Owners will be able to set up new toll accounts online to use with the module or continue to use their current accounts, Audi says.

The company’s first fully electric production vehicle has been in development for at least four years, but it comes at a crucial time as Audi emerges from the diesel emissions-test cheating scandal that hit parent company Volkswagen Group in 2015.

“It was time for a fundamental change, and that’s what we have done,” said Abraham Schot, temporary chairman of Audi’s Board of Management, who was appointed to run the company earlier this year after former CEO Rupert Stadler was arrested in connection with the scandal.

The E-tron is the first of three battery-electric vehicles Audi plans to release by 2020. The company expects electric to catch on quickly: By 2025, nearly 30% of its sales will be EVs, Schot said. The audience of more than 1,000 at the event, held in a 1931 Ford factory on the shores of San Francisco Bay, included many of the dealers who will be called upon to sell those green vehicles.

Audi emphasized its sales and service network, with 302 US dealerships and more than 3,500 technicians, as a competitive advantage. Tesla lists just over 100 US stores on its website, and some customers who ordered the Model 3 have been frustrated by delays in getting one. On Sunday, CEO Elon Musk tweeted that the company was in “delivery logistics hell.”

For its charging network, Audi is partnering with Electrify America, a $2 billion program that came out of Volkswagen’s settlements of the Dieselgate scandal. By July of next year, this will make almost 500 chargers available in 40 states, Audi says. Electrify’s ultimate goal is 2,000 chargers, with stations no more than 120 miles apart.

For installation of home chargers, Audi has partnered with Amazon Home Services. In another Amazon connection, the Alexa personal assistant will be available in the E-tron through the Audi Connect in-car data service.

— Stephen Lawson is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter @sdlawsonmedia.

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