Audi has approved a new strategy to build a range of eco cars. The plan was given the green light just before Christmas and will spawn a family of clean, low CO2 cars, dubbed internally E1 to E5 and spanning everything from a small city car to sports cars.
In mid-December 2008, the strategy board rubber-stamped the proposed E1 entry-level eco-car. It's Audi's response to homegrown rival BMW's Project i – a suite of innovative, low-emissions models to keep premium car sales buoyant in a carbon age.
What follows is a top-secret insight into what the R&D team at Ingolstadt is considering:
Audi E1: the electric car
The smallest clean Audi is dubbed E1 and is based on Volkswagen's NSF family. That's essentially the sub-Polo mini car based on the VW Up concept, which will also be badged as a Seat and Skoda. However, Audi won't dabble with badge engineering and will rebody the E1, so it looks quite different inside and out to the VW Up pictured. The E1 will have an electric engine option later in the programme, but also a series of tiny petrol and diesel engines. Our engineering source said: 'Because of the ultra-compact dimensions, the three-door version is not ideal for a hybrid application, but the four-door cars could easily package a battery pack and an electric motor positioned between the rear wheels.'
Audi E2: the eco sports car
Don't assume all the clean Audis will be dull. E2 is Audi's iteration of the VW BlueSport concept car – and it'll be a mid-engined sports car aimed at the Mazda MX-5 family. Clean aero, light weight and a string of stingy powerplants will ensure the E2 is a clean, green sports car. Audi favours a pair of three-cylinder engines: a 1.2 FSI (75bhp/110Nm) or 1.2 TDI (75bhp/180Nm). Electrification is an option, but with one kilowatt hour costing between €400 and €1000 depending on technology, the battery pack powering a 60bhp e-motor with a 60-mile range would add at least €5000 to the grand total. And that's perhaps too much for this size class, Audi worries...
Audi E3: the A2 reborn!
Audi launched a stellar tech showcase in the 1990s A2. It mixed aluminium tech, futuristic styling and preceded BMW's Mini by several years. Now the company is preparing to relaunch the A2, dubbed E3. It will again use aluminium-intensive construction and be based on the cost-efficient MQB matrix due for the 2011 A3 hatch. It is at this point not clear how much of MQB can actually be adapted for NSF, but certain basic synergies (electronics, micro-componentry, auxiliary modules) are bound to materialise.
Audi E4: the Roadjet gets a second chance
There's a new name and a second chance for the Audi Roadjet concept which quietly disappeared after its debut at the 2006 Detroit auto show.
This highly flexible tall-roof concept does indeed deserve a second chance, combining the packaging and practicality virtues of a van with the dynamic attractions of a Sportback. Think of it as a larger and roomier E3, and you´re almost there. A plug-in hybrid would be a natural part of the line-up.
Audi E5: another new eco-friendly sports car
By 2014, Audi plans another green sports car. It should come as good news for enthusiasts worried about the future of fast cars. Details remain scarce at the moment (we're talking a 2014 launch here) and neither the content nor donor model have been defined. According to the Audi grapevine, this fuel miser could be based on the A1 or on the new mid-engine R-line platform. E5 is said to demonstrate that the lightweight architecture works in two directions: towards a very ambitious CO2/mpg goal and in the handling and performance department. And there will be an S model, provisionally dubbed E5S.
Rivals from BMW and Mercedes
Both BMW (Project i) and Mercedes (GUC) are establishing new processes for their new ultra-green products. Audi plans to roll out an evolution of its proven ASF spaceframe technology and is likely to mark its 2009 centenary celebrations with a first glimpse of the E-line family in concept car form.
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