Audi’s clean and green future

Published: 30 August 2007

What’s all this about then? Vorsprung durch Technik?

Audi, like every other German premium car maker, is feeling the pressure from the EU, its own Green Party, Al Gore, and seemingly everyone else. And unlike the French or Italian volume manufacturers which are already very close to the EU’s proposed 130g/km limit, the Germans are still a fair way off. Even with Chancellor Merkel fighting for them, they have to get clean and green, and have to be seen doing it. So, like Porsche last month, Audi has given unprecedented access to their Neustadt Proving Ground for a sneak preview of its forthcoming hybrids (both full and mild), CNG, E85, urea and other technologies.

What’s Audi’s solution then?

Audi isn’t committing to any specific fuel for the near-future. Instead it’s hedging its bets and exploring all sorts of cleaner, greener fuels – but it is planning to put a lot of them into production. The only thing that the company sees as a certainty is that hydrogen will not be in anything approaching general use for at least another 20 years. And when hydrogen does appear it will be in fuel-cell guise which Audi believes is a more efficient method than using hydrogen as a fuel to power traditional combustion engines, a la the BMW Hydrogen 7 and Ford C-Max H2 ICE.

So what new technology is actually coming then?

Don’t worry, it’s not all pie-in-the-sky. Audi’s revised valve lift technology will start appearing from 2008, and is claimed to reduce fuel consumption by 5 percent. Of rather more interest is Audi’s Q7 Hybrid, that’s due in 2008, although UK buyers will have to wait until 2009 and may be snubbed altogether; Audi claims it hasn’t even been confirmed for right-hand drive.

Seeing as we’re talking about the Q7 tell me about it . . .

We’ve already covered the full technical details of the hybrid system when CAR Online had a ride in the Cayenne Hybrid last month. The Q7 Hybrid is a similar parallel system where the technology slots into the existing mechanical layout, without the need for too many expensive changes. Apart from the air-con and steering that must now be run electrically. Our test Q7 was a five-seater as the NiMH (nickelmetalhydride) battery was in the boot – though engineers claim they can still make the car seat seven in the future – and up front is the standard 3.6-litre V6. Unfortunately the system means that the kerb weight has ballooned from 2235kg to 2480kg. However, emissions should fall from 304 to 231g/km CO2, whilst fuel consumption is claimed to be down – 22.4 to 28.2mpg. Disappointingly, I managed just 18.7mpg, according to the onboard computer. How good this system actually is will only be discovered when CAR has a longer first drive, and isn’t fed laboratory figures. The glovebox in this prototype was filled with wires for the dashboard screen that displayed the energy flows between the wheels, engine and battery. The system is clearer than that in a Lexus or Toyota, and should make production.

Educating the driver? Do you mean having lessons?

Not quite, and while Audi wants whatever system it puts into production to be unobtrusive, some of the possibilities seem rather dictatorial. The company estimates that a driver can influence fuel consumption by up to 30 percent, and even more in a hybrid. All new Audi models from 2007 will have a gearshift indicator, and while it’s nothing new every little does help, especially when it is as simplistic and works as well as this; apparently the telltale warning lights improve fuel economy by 15 percent in the A5. However the future holds a few authoritarian measures. The gearshift indicator will pulse and change colour to encourage you to change gear and the car will suggest ‘live tips’, like closing your windows to reduce air resistance, or dropping your speed. It could also present a list of the features you’re using on the car and show how switching off each could cut fuel consumption. Finally the ‘Eco Trainer’ will rate how economically you’re driving and future sat-nav systems will offer you an economy route with an estimation of your fuel and CO2 savings. Welcome to the future!

What about these alternate fuels then?

As we’ve mentioned Audi isn’t sure what fuels are going to be the best in the near-future. And because different markets have different fuelling infrastructures Ingolstadt has shown us both CNG (compressed natural gas) and E85-powered cars. The base engine for this test is the company’s new 2.0-litre turbocharged FSI engine (TFSI), which is in-turn based on the new 1.8 TFSI. This 2.0-litre is rated by Audi to 220kW (295bhp) and can be installed transversely and longitudinally so expect to see it in all sorts of VAG products in the near future, including the new VW Scirocco. First up is the CNG engine with 161bhp. The engine is optimised to run on CNG and even using fossil-fuel produced CNG CO2 emissions are supposed to be 20 percent less, whilst CNG (at least in Germany) is half the cost of petrol. The system weights 90kg more than a standard car, in part because of the weight of four gas tanks holding 21kg of CNG at 200bar. But this gives a theoretical range of over 250 miles, plus the small 14-litre petrol tank should give you a 100 mile back-up. On the road, you can’t tell the difference between the car on CNG and conventional petrol.

But CNG died a death in the UK. What about this E85 that Saab is crowing about?

Audi’s E85-engined car has 174bhp (thanks to its higher octane rating than petrol) but the car is actually designed to improve economy not performance, so a driver isn’t caught out in an overtaking manoeuvre, finding he’s on petrol and suddenly lacking a little poke. Ultimately the car is designed to run on anything from E85 (a mix of 85 percent ethanol and 15 petrol) down to E0 (conventional petrol) though all petrol has some renewable content now. What both systems ultimately rely on however is the fuel they use. If CNG is made from liquid manure and other farming waste then Audi reckons, from ‘well to wheel’, your car could do 40g/km. The other interesting possibility is Audi’s (and also VAG’s) tie-up with a Canadian company called Iogen that makes ethanol from straw – so not using food industry products – and in the process cutting 90 percent of CO2 emissions. And VAG is also tied up with Choren in Germany working on SunDiesel using other waste products, and running this fuel Audi claim CO2 emissions will be down to 22g/km. There’s only the issue of mass-production to overcome…

Anything a little closer to production?

Stop/start technology, but then still not until 2009. Audi are evaluating two systems, one with a separate alternator and starter motor, and one with a combined belt-driven unit. Both systems work, though the latter may be more expensive but unlike BMW’s technology, Audi showcased the technology on six-cylinder cars as well. And again as part of educating the driver, the MMI screen will show how many grams of CO2 are saved when you’re stopped or when the charged-up battery is running the car’s electrical systems. We also got behind the wheel of Audi’s 1.9 TDI ‘e’ model, whose 119g/km would avoid the possible Congestion Charge increase. CAR Online will be bringing you a first drive of this car, and the 1.8 TFSI engine in the A3, later this week.

But CNG died a death in the UK. What about this E85 that Saab is crowing about?

Audi’s E85-engined car has 174bhp (thanks to its higher octane rating than petrol) but the car is actually designed to improve economy not performance, so a driver isn’t caught out in an overtaking manoeuvre, finding he’s on petrol and suddenly lacking a little poke. Ultimately the car is designed to run on anything from E85 (a mix of 85 percent ethanol and 15 petrol) down to E0 (conventional petrol) though all petrol has some renewable content now. What both systems ultimately rely on however is the fuel they use. If CNG is made from liquid manure and other farming waste then Audi reckons, from ‘well to wheel’, your car could do 40g/km. The other interesting possibility is Audi’s (and also VAG’s) tie-up with a Canadian company called Iogen that makes ethanol from straw – so not using food industry products – and in the process cutting 90 percent of CO2 emissions. And VAG is also tied up with Choren in Germany working on SunDiesel using other waste products, and running this fuel Audi claim CO2 emissions will be down to 22g/km. There’s only the issue of mass-production to overcome…

Anything a little closer to production?

Stop/start technology, but then still not until 2009. Audi are evaluating two systems, one with a separate alternator and starter motor, and one with a combined belt-driven unit. Both systems work, though the latter may be more expensive but unlike BMW’s technology, Audi showcased the technology on six-cylinder cars as well. And again as part of educating the driver, the MMI screen will show how many grams of CO2 are saved when you’re stopped or when the charged-up battery is running the car’s electrical systems. We also got behind the wheel of Audi’s 1.9 TDI ‘e’ model, whose 119g/km would avoid the possible Congestion Charge increase. CAR Online will be bringing you a first drive of this car, and the 1.8 TFSI engine in the A3, later this week.

By Ben Pulman

CAR's editor-at-large, co-ordinator, tallboy

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