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Only 17 Audi A3 e-tron battery cars will be used for the initial U.S. pilot program.

Audi is set to introduce its first battery car in the U.S. market – albeit in the form of a test program that could lead to more widespread use of the technology in the next few years.

During an appearance at the annual TED conference, in Long Beach, California, Audi of America CEO Johan DeNysschen revealed plans to put 17 A3 e-trons on the road next month, dividing them between four U.S. markets.  The pilot programs a similar test of the A1 e-tron in Germany.

The two tests are designed to provide rapid feedback to help Audi move its battery technology into the mainstream as soon as possible, company officials noted.

“Audi is committed to refining Audi e-tron technology and we expect our plug-in vehicles to become a significant choice for our buyers within a growing line of advanced, efficient Audi powertrains over the coming years,” said DeNysschen at the TED2012 event.

The A3 e-tron made a quiet appearance at the Los Angeles Auto Show last November (Click Here for’s coverage.) It’s a pure battery-electric vehicle using a 26 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack capable of providing up to 90 miles ranges at speeds up to 90 mph. The driveline develops about 199 lb-ft of torque, Audi revealed.

The A1 e-tron being tested in Europe, meanwhile, uses a range-extender driveline, with a smaller battery and more limited electric range – but the ability to fire up a compact internal combustion engine to provide electricity for the minicar’s motor once the batteries run down.

It is still unclear what sort of vehicle Audi will bring to the U.S. market first in production form, but the two pilot programs should help company planners decide – while also giving engineers technical feedback.

Unlike the pilot programs underway at competing brands, Audi will not make the A3 e-tron available to the public.  The 17 battery cars will be distributed to corporate “internals” in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver and Washington, D.C., noted Audi spokesman Brad Stertz, “to get rapid feedback.”

“We will integrate the data generated from this program into the launch of a range of Audi e-tron models for American drivers,” stressed Jeff Curry, head of Audi of America’s e-mobility program.

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