Tesla has built a buzz in the automotive industry, with several manufacturers now readying models to compete with the American upstart’s full-electric sedans and SUVs.
One of those manufacturers, Audi, has revealed it will introduce an electric SUV – but it won’t launch until 2018, lagging considerably behind the soon to be launched Tesla Model X.
CarAdvice sat down with Dr. Ulrich Hackenberg, board member for technical development of Audi and head of cross-brand research and development to discuss Audi’s trailing position in this field.
The decision to build an Audi electric SUV — based on the e-tron quattro concept — was due to the unique marketing proposition of a range-capable SUV, especially in a market like the USA.
“It’s easier to make a smaller car. But, our marketing people want an SUV, and SUVs are growing in every segment and category – which is the reason we went for it,” said Hackenberg.
“A C-segment SUV is big all over the world, so the best chance for volume to be successful guaranteed in an SUV.
“It’s a challenge for us because we have needed a bigger car, bigger battery packs. It affects aerodynamics. We are looking at what we can do with, for example, additional features like active aerodynamic controls. Like a spoiler that moves, or a diffuser on the floor of the car.”
But, with the Tesla Model X launching in the US market this year and to the Australian market next year, Audi will lag the Silicon Valley company by some two or three years.
Additionally, the company is yet to announce infrastructure for customers in Australia – whereas Tesla customers benefit from the brand’s growing Supercharger network – making an electric Audi SUV a comparative hard sell.
Asked whether he was worried about competition from Tesla, Hackenberg didn’t seem fazed.
“We are not concerned about that because we know about the strength of Audi and we have a lot of customers and we are growing in the USA. A lot of customers are asking us in the USA for such a car, which is the reason why our marketing people pushed us in this direction.”
“The Tesla is a competitor and it’s good to have competitors, but they are not only competitors, they are there to prepare the market, so it’s something positive. We have to make accommodation for such technologies with our market strength and full competencies and core values.”
To succeed in the US market, Audi needs to ensure the e-tron quattro production vehicle is a unique proposition and gives buyers an option that makes it more appealing than Tesla with the Model X.
Perhaps that will be cameras instead of wing mirrors, which Hackenberg says could make it to the production vehicle.
“We are in discussion with the authorities about a camera mirror on the side, which is not so bad. In the XL-1 we have such a system for a small number of cars on the market, so we have some good experience and have given some cars to the authorities for testing”.
“It will be a worldwide car so we have to offer a normal mirror too. If you look at the door panel for example, you can see there is space for the screen but it can easily be replaced with wood or other flexible parts”
So maybe it’s the camera mirror that will win buyers over. We will just have to wait and see.