The 2015 Audi R8 e-tron electric supercar revealed this week at the Geneva motor show will spearhead the company’s plans to make a pure electric rival to the Tesla Model S from one of its next-generation passenger cars.
Audi’s second-generation R8 e-tron supercar has 340kW of power and a remarkable 920Nm of torque, sprints from 0-100km/h in 3.9 seconds and offers a range in excess of 450 kilometres — effectively double that of the first version.
This new version uses a multimaterial Audi Space Frame made with carbonfibre-reinforced plastics incorporating corrugated boot walls to absorb energy in a rear-end collision. Under this is a large T-shaped battery structurally integrated into the centre tunnel and behind the occupant cell.
Read more details on the R8 e-tron here.
But look beyond this range-topper, because the embrace of trickle-down research and development means lessons learned from this program will swiftly carry over to other, bigger-volume pure electric models too. Notably what appears to be a proposed Tesla Model S fighter.
Speaking with media including CarAdvice in Geneva this week, Audi board member for technical development Ulrich Hackenberg said cars such as the R8 e-tron emotionalised electrification, and at the same time acted as fertile ground for Audi engineers to develop lucrative future EV models.
“We use the R8 e-tron as an object where we can emotionalise the e-mobility in our cars as well as technology. We can tell our customers that e-mobility is not only for saving emissions but also for having fun,” he said.
“With a sports car like the R8, if you can realise the performance which is similar to the common drivetrains, I think that's really fun. And the driveability is great, we have a very quick response and the controllability of the drive is perfect.
“The problem was the range, and with the R8 we have realised a range in the emission cycle of 450km. If you drive the car with power it will go down, just like a normal drivetrain, but it's a good combination for CO2 emission on the one hand and having fun with a sports car on the other.”
The expansion of its e-tron family, beyond cars such as the A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid (which goes on sale in Australia in May) and into yet more glamorous pure EV offerings, is the next step.
"The team now has the possibility to build up confidence with such a car [R8 e-tron], and that's very important because one of the areas where we trained our engineering team to develop a full-size car which is under planning for the end 2017 or early 2018, this area,” Hackenberg said.
“That will be a car which is for more passengers which is placed in the big segment and has a range of more than 500km," he said. The next-generation A6 and A7 models are due around 2017, and would seem to be the answer here.
The pure electric Tesla Model S P85D has a claimed top range of 503km, and is in the so-called ‘big segment’ too.
The interesting part of this equation is that Audi has to now put most of its work into plug-in hybrids as the best bridging technology. But it appears the R8 e-tron's long range has provided the tipping point to making full EVs a focus as well.
It seems that the Ingolstadt giant is coming for the Silicon Valley startup, and based on what we’ve seen from the technology in the R8 e-tron, the battle looks entertaining.
Especially, we'd add, if Audi applies elements of the styling of the Prologue Avant concept (also shown in Geneva this year for the first time, and pictured above) to such a vehicle.