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This new Audi is a "technological rock star"
LUXURY German carmaker Audi officially unveiled its first fully electric vehicle (EV), the e-tron sport utility vehicle (SUV), on Monday.
The brand lags BMW and Mercedes-Benz in global premium car sales, but as EV sales gather pace, it believes its engineering and style-led approach to building luxury cars could serve the e-tron well.
"It is 100 per cent Audi," said Bram Schot, the temporary chief executive of Audi and board member for sales and marketing.
At 4.9 metres long, the e-tron is slightly larger than the Q5, a comparable Audi SUV that is combustion engined. A 95kWh lithium-ion battery pack gives the e-tron a range of more than 400km on a single charge.
All-wheel drive, an Audi hallmark under the term 'quattro', is achieved with a pair of electric motors driving the front and rear wheels respectively. Electronics automatically control the distribution of drive between both axles in just 30 milliseconds, far more quickly than any conventional mechanical system can.
With the motors capable of generating up to 400 horsepower in maximum output mode, the car completes the 0-100km/h dash in 5.7 seconds, with a top speed of 200km/h.
Like Jaguar's I-Pace, the e-tron is a product of two trends. Its shape was determined by an ongoing popularity of SUVs, and its powertrain resulted from an EV market that is booming from a low baseline. Audi is more proud of the latter. "We are launching a technological rock star," said Scott Keogh, the president of Audi USA.
Cultivating such stardom hasn't come cheap. Audi has sunk 40 billion euros (S$64 billion) into the key, interlinked areas of the next wave of automotive tech, namely e-mobility, autonomous drive and digitisation.
By 2025, Audi projects that a third of its sales - or 800,000 cars - will be electrified models. To that end, it will launch 12 EVs, in addition to plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs), and mild hybrid versions of existing models.
The e-tron it launched this week will itself spawn a range of models. A coupe-like e-tron Sportback will come in 2019, followed by a compact model and a four-seater sports car dubbed the e-tron GT in 2020.
But even as it prepares a line of snazzy electric cars, Audi intends to differentiate itself by pitching a digital lifestyle centred around electromobility to potential customers.
"We will build a new ecosystem around the electric car with premium digital services, like functions on demand," said Mr Schot, alluding to the brand's intention to sell not just physical cars, but also out-of-car services, digital services and sales support to its customers.
That approach will also be extended to Singapore, when the e-tron launches in the middle of next year.
In fact, pushing an entirely new approach to EV ownership could be key to overcoming the difficulties of EV ownership in Singapore, where most car owners do not have access to a private parking lot for charging.
"Electric vehicles are obviously the future, and everyone is going that way. But as Audi, we'll do things differently from everyone else," Jeff Mannering, managing director of Audi Singapore, told The Business Times at the launch event.
He said Audi will offer a "charge-on-demand" service, which will be a support network for charging. While the exact details and mechanics have not been finalised, a customer's car that needs charging could be charged and sent to them, for instance, or they could swap their car for a replacement with a fully-charged battery while theirs is being juiced up.
"Basically, we are going to do everything to make it as simple as possible for a customer to own an electric Audi," said Mr Mannering.
In January this year, Audi made Singapore one of the first markets in the world to have Audi On Demand, a short-term rental service aimed at allowing more people to experience the brand and its cars.
Despite the barriers locally, electric cars have obvious appeal in Singapore, where travel distances are relatively short.
With power tariffs of S$0.24 per kWh, an Audi e-tron would cost just S$22.08 to charge fully, and like other EVs, it would emit no local air pollution, which the WHO says causes as many as seven million deaths worldwide.
Audi isn't the only car brand to think so; even in Singapore, there will be strong competition for the e-tron expected in 2019 and 2020.
BMW has a full range of PHEVs and launched the i3 EV as far back as 2014. More mainstream EV offerings include the Hyundai Ioniq Electric and Renault Zoe, both of which also launched this year.
With so many electric and electrified models already on offer, some might point out that Audi has been a slow mover. But the e-tron is only the first model in a wave of battery-driven cars to come, so while Audi may be showing up late, it intends to show up in force.