Audi’s first plug-in hybrid will hit the UK by 2015, with the electric-assisted drivetrain installed in the A3. E-tron versions of the next-generation A4 and Q7 will follow, as Audi gets serious about plug-ins, and takes the fight to BMW’s forthcoming range of ‘born electric’ i cars.
Audi A3 e-tron: the full lowdown
Audi UK’s number-crunchers have been trying to calculate the market’s size, to estimate potential demand and help shape the A3 e-tron’s spec. ‘Audi’s plug-in hybrids must be no compromise cars,’ says our source. That translates to a 30-mile electric-only range, CO2 emissions below 76g/km to unlock tax breaks, and a back-up petrol engine to ensure owners aren’t left stranded.
The A3 e-tron’s lithium-ion batteries can be recharged from a socket, unlike the full hybrid A6 and A8 models already on sale. Audi showed a concept A3 e-tron back in 2011, which coupled a 1.4-litre TFSI turbo engine with a 27kW electric motor. Working in parallel, the engine and motor can blast the A3 to 62mph in 6.8sec, though tickle the car around town and a 34-mile pure electric range is promised.
In 2012, UK punters bought just 2226 pure electric cars (like the Nissan Leaf) and uprated hybrids: range-extenders like the Vauxhall Ampera/Chevy Volt, and the plug-in Toyota Prius, whose 15-mile range is half that Audi promises. So, how big will the equivalent market be at the end of 2015? ‘If you accurately knew the answer to that, we’d pay you a lot of money to tell us,’ says our source, only half-jokingly. The market will certainly have grown, as more models – Renault’s electric Zoe, and BMW’s i3 EV and range extender hatch – pile into the segment.
R8 e-tron supercar is axed
A burgeoning recharging network and consistent government incentives will be crucial to nurturing the market. The £5000 rebate for ultra-low emissions cars is only guaranteed until 2015, the life of the current UK parliament. Benefit-in-kind tax still applies to drivers of the Prius plug-in (49g/km of CO2) or Ampera (27g/km), calculated on 5% of the cars’s £33-35k prices. The A3 e-tron is on course to qualify for the same rate of company car tax and London congestion charge exemption – unless politicians change the rules.
While Audi’s eco branding was introduced with the R8 e-tron in 2009, this pure electric halo car has been cancelled, having missed Audi’s ‘late 2012’ timetable for sales. With its lithium-ion battery pack and quad electric motors delivering 3319lb ft of torque, the R8 e-tron lapped the legendary Nürburgring Nordschleife in 8:09 minutes – just 58 seconds slower than the Gumpert Apollo’s production car record. However, the R8 e-tron’s projected high cost, limited range and the lack of demand for a silent supercar means the project has been shelved.