An all-electric version of Audi's upcoming Q8 sports SUV has been approved for production as a direct rival to Tesla, according to senior company sources.

The Q8 e-tron will use battery and electric powertrain technology from the upcoming R8 e-tron supercar, with Audi engineers targeting a practical range of 370 miles. It’s thought that the new car will not be seen before 2017. 

The R8 e-tron project was recently reprised, with the updated car getting twin electric motors, 376bhp and a range of around 250 miles.

The new Q8 model is aimed directly at the upcoming Tesla Model X SUV, which is due to be launched later this year. Like the Tesla, the Q8 e-tron will have electric motors driving the front and rear wheels. 

The Q8 e-tron is expected to have a large battery pack, at least equal to the 80kWh pack that will be available in the Tesla. Battery technology is expected to make significant advances by the time the Q8 arrives, which will improve its potential range. 

In addition to the electric version, the super-luxury all-wheel-drive Q8 will be available with conventional petrol and diesel engines as well as a 
plug-in hybrid powertrain. 
A high-performance SQ8 is also planned.

The Q8 e-tron will meet what Audi planners believe will be a demand for luxury cars that can travel in the zero-emissions city centres of the future. Audi believes that at this market level the customers see ‘greenness’ as indivisible from premium values.

According to the highly placed insiders, the Q8 will be based on the next-generation Q7 SUV, which is due later this year. However, unlike the traditional, bluff off-roader styling employed by the Q7, the Q8 will be much sleeker.

The five-door hatchback Q8 will have a higher waistline, lower roofline and shallower side windows than its Q7 sister model and will be available in both five and seven-seat configurations. 

Like most of Audi’s future models from the A4 upwards, the Q8 will be based on the Volkswagen Group’s new MLB-evo platform, which features a mix of cast, extruded and stamped aluminium as well as very high-strength steels. 

According to Audi sources, the new platform has played a large part in shaving as much as 300kg off the weight of the new Q7. This weight saving on the MLB-evo platform will play a crucial part in being able to build a viable electric Q8. 

The move is part of Audi's plan to expand its Q-badged range of models. Technical boss Ulrich Hackenberg has said the Q range has "lots of potential" for Audi, and the firm already has plans to launch a Q1 baby SUV in 2016 as well as new models which mix MPV and SUV traits.

Audi's alternative powertrain plans

TT shooting brake

Shown in Detroit, the TT concept uses a quattro hybrid powertrain with a petrol engine, dual-clutch automatic gearbox, battery pack and electric motors front and rear. It can run as a conventional petrol powertrain or as a pure EV. This system is likely to make production.

A1 E-Tron

The first A1 e-tron was a range extender with an electric motor and a tiny Wankel engine/generator to provide electrical power. While clever, the tech didn’t belong to the VW Group. The second-gen model uses a conventional engine as both a drive source and a generator.

R8 E-Tron

Reputedly cancelled last year by Audi’s short-lived development boss, Wolfgang Dürheimer, the R8 e-tron is once again set to be confirmed for production. The final prototype had 380bhp and a 0-62mph time of 4.2sec. The range was no more than 100 miles with spirited driving.

A3 G-Tron

Not an electric car, but it is powered by fuel made from renewable electricity. The G-tron has a 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine and two large, lightweight gas tanks for ‘artificial’ methane produced by mixing CO2 with hydrogen made from seawater using power from wind turbines. 

Additional reporting by Greg Kable