Currently reading: Promoted | The story behind Audi e-tron
Audi’s e-tron philosophy is changing the way we think about electric cars. It’s also changing the way that Audi designs, engineers and builds them
Autocar
News
7 mins read
23 November 2020

Ever since Audi introduced its ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ tagline in 1971, the idea of ‘progress through technology’ has underpinned every element of Audi’s design and engineering – from turbocharged quattro performance, through milestone leaps in fuel efficiency, to advanced technology that has made driving easier and safer.

Audi’s all-electric e-tron models are the boldest evolution of that philosophy to date, offering no-compromise zero-emissions electric driving with all of the thrilling driving experience, cosseting comfort and versatile dependability you expect from an Audi. ‘Vorsprung durch Technik. Now electric’, if you will.

As part of its goal of being a net-zero carbon neutral company by 2050, Audi plans to introduce 30 electrified models to its range over the next five years – roughly 40% of the line-up of cars it sells. This includes 20 all-new all-electric e-tron models that will cover everything from family-friendly SUVs to thrilling performance cars.

But, in order to truly understand the potential for Audi’s long-term e-tron vision, we first need to take a brief step into its past.

We’ve joined forces with Audi to launch Autocar Electric – bringing you the latest EV news and analysis, in-depth reviews and lots of help and advice to start you on your electric journey. Click here to discover more.

The evolution of e-tron

The e-tron concept at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show offered the first glimpse of Audi’s intent. The Audi R8-inspired design boasted 154 miles of electric range, but some questioned whether electric would ever deliver sports car thrills. With 309bhp and an astonishing 3319 lb-ft of torque transmitted through all-electric quattro all-wheel drive, the e-tron concept had the answer: 0-62mph in just 4.8 seconds.

At the same time, Audi started honing its e-tron knowledge on the track. Ever since Audi dominated rallying in the 1980s with quattro all-wheel drive, motorsport has been a key part of its Vorsprung durch Technik ethos. The crucible of the race track has always been the perfect fast-paced proving ground for rapidly improving road car technology through the white-hot heat of competition, and the idea of ‘racing improving the breed’ seemed the perfect match for e-tron.

Audi’s R18 e-tron quattro prototype became the first electric-hybrid to win the gruelling Le Mans 24 Hours with a hat-trick of victories in 2012, 2013 and 2014, while Audi’s title-winning campaigns in the all-electric FIA Formula E single-seater series have helped its engineers develop ever-more efficient electric powertrains that charge and deploy energy faster, while also being lighter and smaller.

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The unveiling of the limited-run R8 e-tron at the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show showed how electrifying Audi’s progress had been in just six years. With 456hp and 678 lb-ft, it could reach 62mph in just 3.9 seconds. Even better, the high-capacity 92kWh battery – more energy efficient and more smartly packaged, thanks to fast-moving developments in electric powertrain technology – offered up to 280 miles of range.

The big news though, was the reveal of the Audi e-tron quattro SUV concept which gave the first taste of Audi’s first full production all-electric model –  a model which was already well under development.

Changing the face of Audi e-design 

Audi has never been held back by something as quaint as convention, and the switch to electric powertrains has let Audi rethink how its e-tron models are designed and engineered. No longer are physics and form defined by an engine up front. Instead, low-slung batteries and compact motors have lowered the centre of gravity <and> opened up interior space, while aerodynamics have subtly altered how e-tron models are shaped, without losing Audi’s distinctively familiar design language. 

“There’s never been a more exciting time to be a designer, taking car design into the future,” says Audi Head of Design Marc Lichte. “Progress is an important part of Audi’s DNA. Our designs must radiate a presence: ‘Here comes an Audi’. But, of course, an electric car must also clearly say: ‘Here comes the future’.”

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“The battery between the axles lets us create proportions we’ve long dreamed of. Huge wheelbase, small overhangs: completely new proportions defining the unique character of electric vehicles. The heart of the vehicle is no longer the engine, but the battery in the floor. So, the Audi Q4 e-tron concept has an expressive sill that clearly signals the location of the car’s beating heart. The front hood also has more sedate design. Power domes are a thing of the past.

“Aerodynamics increase range, so the e-tron has a streamlined droplet shape with a fast, sleek roof. The underbody features streamlined panelling, flowing into the rear diffuser. Even the wheels have aerodynamic trims, yet still resemble a sporty wheel with spokes. Intakes channel air to the battery to cool it down, which helps it charge more quickly. Last, but not least, our virtual exterior mirrors contribute to the low air resistance – and make Audi’s ‘Vorsprung’ visible.”

Even the paint on an Audi e-tron has been re-thought to have new purpose – reflecting more sunlight and heat than on previous Audi models to reduce the load on the interior air-conditioning and preserving battery power for increased range.

From hybrid to e-tron all-electric

Audi officially unveiled its game-changing e-tron at the 2018 San Francisco Auto Show. With family-friendly SUV dimensions and 403bhp and 490 lb-ft of torque through all-electric quattro all-wheel drive, it can accelerate from 0-62mph in a confidence-inspiring 5.7 seconds, while delivering up to 252 miles (WLTP) of range with ultra-rapid 150kW recharging to 80% in as little as 30 minutes. 

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This was where the promise of a truly usable all-electric Audi e-tron SUV became true reality – spacious, comfortable and versatile, while also thrilling to drive, with practical real-world range and fast-charging that would make long journeys a breeze. 

The recently unveiled Audi e-tron Sportback offers the choice of sports coupe styling, while an Audi e-tron GT Concept that delivers the promise of the original e-tron concept with 590hp, 0-62mph in 3.5 seconds, 249 miles of range and ultra-fast 20-minute charging times that offer 80% capacity is in the pipeline. Looking further ahead, an Audi Q4 e-tron Concept that delivers a more compact city-friendly SUV alternative without compromising range, comfort or practicality is also on the cards.

And, all the while, Audi has maintained its broader approach to electrification with an extensive and still-growing range of advanced TFSI e plug-in hybrid models that significantly improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions in the here and now for drivers who don’t want to make the step to full electric.

Looking to e-tron’s future

In the past, Vorsprung durch Technik meant performance, safety and efficiency. Now, in the world of e-tron, ‘progress through technology’ means sustainability and forward-looking solutions to the way we all use our resources. That’s why Audi’s e-tron philosophy is not only changing how Audi’s cars are designed and powered – it’s changing how Audis are made, how they’ll be charged, and how they’ll be driven.

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Sustainability is so much more than merely reducing a car’s CO2 emissions, and in the same way we talk about ‘farm to fork’ sustainability with food, Audi is looking at every element of the ‘cradle-to-grave’ life of electric cars – including how a car’s raw materials are sourced, how they’re shaped and formed in the factory, and what happens to them at the end of the car’s life.

With engineering and production facilities in 16 locations in 12 countries, employing over 90,700 people to make 1.8 million cars a year, the industrial scale of Audi is impressive, but it also has an impact. This is why Audi has set itself Mission: Zero – the aim of zero carbon emissions from all of its plants by 2025. 

Audi’s factory in Brussels – where the e-tron is made – is already the world’s first carbon-neutral large-scale production facility in the premium segment, thanks to the introduction of solar panels and biogas heating. On a broader scale, energy efficiency initiatives across the breadth of Audi’s facilities in 2019 saved 71,300 megawatt hours of electricity and around 10,800 tons of CO2 emissions in 2019.

Audi is also working with all of its partners to reduce energy and raw material usage across the full breadth of its supply chain – especially for CO2-intensive processes, such as aluminium, steel and battery production – while also examining how every component of an Audi can be reduced, reused, recycled or rethought to reduce its net impact as part of a ‘less is more’ philosophy.

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How e-tron is helping Audi rethink e-mobility

Audi’s e-tron vision isn’t solely about sustainability, though. It’s about making electric driving easier – and that means charging. Audi is working with charging partner Ionity to improve the infrastructure and speed of electric charging networks, while also making on-the-go charging even easier with a ‘one payment card’-style solution. 

Equally, e-tron models are continuing to develop Audi’s wealth of intelligent driver assistance technologies that make journeys – especially motorway driving and stop-start city traffic – easier, more stress-free, safer and more energy efficient.

Looking even further ahead, Audi’s e-tron vision is even developing ideas for how the car can be re-imagined through electric power – not just zero-emissions driving, but redesigned interiors that focus more on space, comfort and convenience, or infotainment that changes your car from a conveyance to a connected device that engages with every other aspect of your life. 

So, if the future is electric, then Audi e-tron is clearly giving us all a first taste of that future today. Now, that’s what I call ‘progress through technology’.

We’ve joined forces with Audi to launch Autocar Electric – bringing you the latest EV news and analysis, in-depth reviews and lots of help and advice to start you on your electric journey. Click here to discover more.

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