Driving a one-off concept car is, unfortunately, often less glamorous and exciting than you’d think.
Time behind the wheel can be very restricted, sometimes to a couple of hundred yards in a straight line or two laps of a car park at 10mph. You’re surrounded by minders who are understandably nervous at the thought of a careless buffoon climbing behind the wheel and wrecking a near-priceless piece of their brand’s design history, and any hint of rain always stops play.
There are rare exceptions, though, and our time driving Audi’s new E-tron GT was one of them.
After last month’s Los Angeles motor show, where the E-tron GT made its debut, Audi pulled the concept, claimed to be worth €5 million (£4.5m), out onto the streets and gave a select group of journalists the chance to take it for a spin. On the public road. In downtown LA. During rush hour. Escorted through red lights by police officers on motorcycles. This sort of thing doesn’t happen often.
It’s perhaps unsurprising that Audi was so keen to let us try the E-tron GT in a real-world environment. After all, it may officially be a concept, but those involved tell us it’s 95% finished visually, and a significant amount of the development work for the car’s oily (well, sparky) bits has been completed. The electric four-door coupé is due to arrive in production form in around 18 months, with only a handful of small-scale changes from the prototype.
The E-tron GT will be the third EV from Audi to roll out after the recently launched E-tron and upcoming E-tron Sportback SUVs. That’s three out of a planned 12 bespoke electric Audis due to be launched before 2025, as part of a €14bn (£12.6bn) investment plan for one brand alone. The sum itself is a fraction of the simply vast cash reserves being ploughed into transforming a number of the Volkswagen Group’s marques into mass-volume electric car makers.
Part of the reason for this is that the VW Group needs to be seen to be reacting in a wide-reaching way to the infamous Dieselgate scandal. Audi bosses will trot out the official line that diesel remains an important part of its range – and, for the time being, it still is. But, behind the scenes, they know that the sooner they can distance themselves from the fuel, the better.
Then there’s the Tesla factor. The controversial Californian electric car firm has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the past few years, pioneering not just with large, long-range and high-performance EVs, but also desirable ones. It’s still only churning out about one car for every 18 Audi makes, but let’s not forget that at the turn of the decade Tesla was posting annual sales in the hundreds.
The significance of Audi launching the E-tron GT in California cannot be ignored. This is the Tesla fanzone: the increasingly environmentally conscious, tech-savvy state takes in nearly 50% of the US’s total EV sales, and you can’t walk for more than two minutes through LA’s financial district without catching sight of a Model S, X or 3 with an ‘amusing’ personal numberplate.