Speaking to Autocar, Stadler said that regulations in eight US states requiring 15% of new cars to be electric by 2025 have ensured that premium car makers will have to "build a range of all-electric vehicles".
As Tesla established, it is customers at the top of the market who are most in tune with the idea of limited-range electric vehicles. Premium priced electric vehicles also make more sense for car makers, which need to accommodate costly battery packs in the factory cost of the car.
Ulrich Hackenberg, Audi’s research and development boss, told the annual press conference in 2014 that the Q6 was currently under development and that the final styling would take much from the Prologue concept car. The new A6, A7 and A8 models will also share design traits with the Prologue.
He added that MLB platform had been designed from the outset to be flexible enough to accommodate a battery pack as well as plug-in hybrid and gas tanks for natural gas power.
Hackenberg also revealed that the next generation Audi A4, which is based on the smallest version of the MLB platform and due to be seen later this year, will also come as a gas-powered version, dubbed the g-tron.
The crossover Q6 SUV will challenge the likes of the BMW X6, Range Rover Sport and the Mercedes-Benz GLE. It is also aimed directly at the upcoming Tesla Model X SUV, which is due to be launched later this year. Like the Tesla, the Q6 e-tron will have electric motors driving the front and rear wheels.
"When the Q6 arrives," said Hackenberg. "It will be something new, following designs established on the Prologue concept [revealed at the LA show]. It will be positioned as something more emotional and more sporty than the Q7. The Q7 will be a car for seven people, the Q6 will be more coupé-like."
The Q7 will be one of the last Audis with the current design language. Hackenberg said he and new chief designer Marc Lichte arrived at the firm too late from Volkswagen to influence the look. To that end, the Q8 will have some visual differentation to the Q7 both inside and out.
Audi Q8 to follow electric Q6
The upmarket Q8 forms a crucial part of Audi’s growth strategy that will see it extend its line-up.
“We see a great deal of potential, particularly in the SUV segment and in the especially prestigious full-size category,” said Stadler earlier this year.
The Q8 has been conceived to extend Audi’s reach at the top of its line-up and to provide the company with added sales in potentially crucial markets such as China, the Middle East and the United States.
In terms of performance and technology, the Q8 is described as being on a par with Audi’s A8 flagship saloon, albeit with the added ability to head off-road thanks to its raised ride height and, on top-end models, adjustable air suspension.
Ingolstadt’s big new SUV, which will have an overall length of more than five metres, has a projected price range of between £50,000 for an entry-level turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 petrol model and £90,000 for a twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 RS Q8 flagship.
A range of V6 and V8 petrol and diesel engines will be offered, alongside plug-in hybrids and an electric version.
The Q8 is set to receive its own, unique five-door body styled under the stewardship of Marc Lichte. Among the various elements expected to set it apart from the more practical second-generation Q7 is a racier front end with a more sporting grille, more obvious tapering around each corner, shallower side glass, a generously sloping roofline and a more heavily angled rear window. 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.
The basis for the Q8 is the second-generation MLB (modular longitudinal architecture) platform. The structure forms part of a family of platforms, the development of which is being led by Audi. It is set to underpin a wide range of upmarket SUVs, including the new Q7, the third-generation Porsche Cayenne, the third-gen Volkswagen Touareg and the Bentley Bentayga.
The Q8 and Bentley will be the plushest and most premium of the SUVs, but Stadler believes the pair won’t clash, as “Bentley can’t fill the gap” of less than £100,000 into which the range-topping Q8 will be pitched.
Insiders say the MLB structure has far greater flexibility than that used today, with added scope for variability within the wheelbase and track widths in a move that, it is suggested, will lead to a wider differentiation between the models planned by the Volkswagen Group’s various brands.
The key development, however, is the adoption of aluminium, thinner-gauge high-strength steel and carbonfibre-reinforced plastic, which together promise to bring a significant reduction in weight of up to 300kg in the Q7 and a kerb weight below 2000kg for the base Q8.
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