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Audi Unveils its Electric e-tron SUV at World Premier Event in San Francisco

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【Summary】Audi is finally ready to take on Tesla and other automakers with a luxury, battery-powered vehicle. At a world premier event held last night in San Francisco, Audi debuted its first fully-electric vehicle, the e-tron compact crossover. Futurecar was there for the unveiling.

Eric Walz    Sep 18, 2018 3:41 PM PT
Audi Unveils its Electric e-tron SUV at World Premier Event in San Francisco
author: Eric Walz   

Audi is finally ready to take on Tesla and other automakers with a luxury, battery-powered vehicle. At a world premier event held last night in San Francisco, Audi debuted its first fully-electric vehicle, the e-tron compact crossover. Futurecar was there for the unveiling.

Audi chose to debut the e-tron at a former Ford assembly plant which overlooks the San Francisco skyline. The cavernous space is now called Ford Point, which is an ironic location for an electric model launch, as it once churned out gas-powered passenger cars for the Ford Motor Company.

The German automaker originally planned to debut the e-tron at the end of August. However, issues with logistics led to Audi pushing the date out to September 17.

The event opened with Audi's interim CEO Bram Schot taking the stage to speak about the development of the electric e-tron. He opened with a memorial quote from Benjamin Franklin: "When you achieve something remarkable, you have caught lightning in a bottle."

"This is precisely what this model represents. We have harnessed the collective power of Audi." he said, referring to the advanced technology the company's engineering team developed specifically for the e-tron. "This is a unique moment in history."

The e-tron is about the same size as Audi's Q3 SUV. Audi's first electric vehicle has a range of around 220 miles, with a battery pack that can reach an 80 percent charge in just 30 minutes.

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The 2019 Audi e-tron

Also on hand was Marc Lichte, Head of Design at AUDI AG, who took the stage to share some insights into the design of the e-tron.

"Today, the technological heart of an Audi is the engine. With the position in the front, the engine dictates the architecture of the car. With the Audi e-tron, this will change. Because the new technological heart is the battery pack, which is located in the floor of the car. This why we came up with the idea to split this car into two layers, the bottom layer emphasizes this core of power, and the upper layer is super sleek and light. This creates a new and unique character of an Audi."

Audi kept the body of the e-tron sleek and aerodynamic while retaining the look of the familiar Audi grill. "For a battery electric vehicle aerodynamics is very important", said Litche. He said the e-tron incorporates Audi's "DNA", which he described as a combination of luxury and a high-performance.

Audi claims the e-tron is exceptionally quiet, offering what Audi calls "an exceptional acoustic experience" from its near silent cabin. The quiet electric motors, combined with sound proofing, dual-pane windows and special sealing materials to reduce road and wind noise creates a quiet environment for passengers.

"Aerodynamics are important because they extend the range, but there is even something more important, Litche said. "Imagine that there is no noise anymore from the engine. Because of these aerodynamics, even at highway speeds the e tron is almost quiet. It's a completely new driving experience."

Audi established a new U.S. design center in Malibu, California call the "Audi Design Loft", where Litche said designers worked on the unique design elements of the e tron.

Adding to the e-tron's aerodynamics is another high-tech feature Audi calls ‘virtual sideview mirrors'. Instead of being made of glass, the "mirrors" are actually tiny cameras mounted on small frame. The system uses 7-inch OLED monitors mounted inside the doors, just above the door handles. The displays are connected to virtual mirrors, providing a commanding view with different angles and views for highway driving, turning and parking. A driver can also zoom in and out using controls inside the vehicle.

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The e-tron's 'virtual mirrors' include a door panel OLED display with a zoom feature

Although the e-tron's luxury touches are typical of an Audi luxury model, some of the real engineering is invisible, especially its regeneration system. According to Audi, regeneration helps the e-tron recapture energy to recharge the battery pack from 90% of braking applications. The extra charging provided by the regeneration system is designed to contribute up to 30 percent of the vehicle's overall driving range.

The e-tron has variable regeneration modes via the steering wheel paddles that allow the driver to optimize their range depending on the where they are driving and the efficiency or performance they want from the vehicle.

The keep the e-tron charged and eliminate any ‘range anxiety', e-tron owners will get a nationwide charging plan using Electrify America's growing network of over 2,000 charging locations. The e-tron can accept a charge of 150 kW, for ultra-fast high-speed charging.

The e-tron is equipped with a SAE Combined Charging System (CCS), and can utilize 150 kW DC high-speed public charging stations that provide an approximate 80 percent charge to the vehicle battery pack in about 30 minutes. For the home charging, a 240V 9.6 kW AC charger is designed to deliver a full charge when plugged in overnight. Alos debuting in the e-tron for the first time is an all-electric version of Audi's renowned Quattro all-wheel-drive system, with dual electric motors for the front and rear axles. The electric powertrain delivers 355 horsepower and 414 pound-feet of torque.

The quick acceleration of the e-tron is made possible by the two electric motors, creating nearly instantaneous torque, which Audi says delivers an unparalleled driving experience. The setup is Audi's first electric version of its famed Quattro all-wheel-drive system. An electric motor is mated to each of the axles, distributing power more efficiently. Audi says the new electric Quattro all-wheel drive system helps provide exceptional control and confidence in a variety of driving conditions.

Audi engineers also designed a dedicated cooling system for the e-tron, which helps keep the battery operating at an optimal temperature to ensure uniform performance in all weather conditions and prevents the battery from becoming too hot.  The battery pack is designed to be compact and is positioned low in the vehicle to enhance driving dynamics.

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Audi is not building its own network of EV charging stations. Instead, the automaker is relying on third parties to build and maintain a vast network of more that 72,000 charging locations.

The entire Volkswagen Group, including Audi and Porsche, along with rivals BMW, Daimler and Ford have joined together to create a joint-venture called Ionity, which will be a network of DC Fast Charging stations capable of 150 kW charging.

The Audi e-tron will also be the first production vehicle capable of 150 kW charging at Ionity stations. The group plans on creating 400 Ionity stations by 2020, giving drivers ample choices for charging.

Customers can order their e-tron starting now. Audi announced that it was accepting fully refundable $1,000 reservation deposits for the new SUV. The vehicle will be available at U.S. dealers in Q2 2019. The e-tron can also be ordered online and shipped directly to a customer's home or office. Audi even set up a new online portal for buyers to track their e-tron as it's built, so owners-to-be can monitor their e-tron throughout its assembly.

Audi's e-tron first appeared at the 2015 auto show as a new concept vehicle, just as electric vehicles were becoming a viable option for car buyers.

Three years ago automakers like Tesla faced little competition from German luxury automakers in the EV space. However that is no longer the case as established automakers such as Audi are starting to introduce fully-electric models.

Audi rival Mercedes Benz just unveiled the first fully-electric offering of its new electric EQ line, the EQC SUV, which represents a big push into EVs. Last week, BMW revealed its new EV concept called the i-Next.

The e-tron will be manufactured in Brussels, in a brand new, environmentally sustainable facility, which Audi says was designed specifically to produce Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs).

Schot said it was time for a monumental change at Audi, as the company looks to leave the ‘dieselgate scandal behind and focus on battery-powered vehicles for Audi's future.

"The e tron marks the beginning of a new era for all of us at Audi. A new era in electric mobility." he said.

The e tron crossover will be the first of three all-electric models Audi plans to launch by 2020.

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