Long focused on high-mileage diesels, Volkswagen and its luxury arm Audi are suddenly getting charged up about battery power. So much so, in fact, that virtually all of the vehicles sold by both the mainstream VW and high-line Audi brands will offer some form of “electrified” options in the near future.
The German brands may even start dropping some conventional gas and diesel models in favor of hybrids, plug-ins and pure battery-electric vehicles, officials noted during a series of interviews at the Frankfurt Motor Show. Even sibling brands Bentley and Porsche are getting into the battery act, the former planning a new plug-in SUV, and the sports carmaker coming to Frankfurt with a 600-horsepower performance model.
“Every car will be electrified,” said Ulrich Hackenberg, the board member overseeing technical development at Audi. And while new fuel economy and emissions mandates are factors driving the shift, he also believes that consumers will find the next generation of electrified vehicles attractive and compelling.
(For a closer look at the Audi e-tron Quattro SUV Concept, Click Here.)
The two brands already have a number of battery-based models on the market, including plug-based versions of the VW Golf and the upscale Audi A3. The current offerings suffer from the same limitations as competing battery-based products: limited range, higher costs and weaker performance. But the products Volkswagen and Audi are developing could begin to overcome those problems.
At the beginning of the decade, a kilowatt-hour of batteries cost about $1,000, a significant penalty even on a small vehicle like the eGolf with about 24 kilowatt-hours of lithium-ion cells onboard. But the goal is to get that down to $200 by the time the prototype Audi e-tron Quattro SUV concept goes into production by 2018, said Hackenberg.
Meanwhile, batteries are getting smaller, lighter and more powerful, which will allow Audi to squeeze about 95 kWh into the production model, giving it 500 kilometers, or 310 miles, of range. That would rival the upcoming Tesla Model X SUV, and allow a driver to go more than three times further between charges compared to most of today’s pure battery vehicles.
Performance is also improving when compared to the slow manners of most of today’s electric vehicles. A new version of the Tesla Model S will hit 60 in less than 3 seconds. And Porsche expects to clock similar numbers with the prototype Mission E electric sports car previewed in Frankfurt. The concept vehicle makes a hefty 600 horsepower, and like all battery-electric vehicles, that power comes on instantly, as soon as a driver slams the throttle.
(Click Here to check out the 600-hp battery-powered Porsche Mission E concept.)
Charging is still a potential issue, cautioned both Hackenberg and his VW brand counterpart, Heinz Jakob Neusser. Parent Volkswagen AG is pressing governments in Europe and the U.S. alike to expand the availability of public charging stations, especially high-speed Level III systems which could allow a Porsche Mission E or Audi e-tron SUV to get an 80% top-off in as little as a half-hour.
The various Volkswagen brands are developing their new battery-based powertrains to fit into existing vehicle platforms, wherever possible, and to be able to be produced on the same assembly lines as conventional gas and diesel models. That will simplify production and lower costs, said Neusser.
Meanwhile, going forward, VW might wind up replacing conventional models with those newer battery-electric offerings, whether simple micro-hybrids, conventional hybrids, plug-ins or BEVs, the VW tech chief said.
The German maker is just one of the many looking at its electrified options. BMW and Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac, Toyota and others are planning to bring out longer-range, higher-power battery vehicles in the very near future. And that presents a serious challenge to Tesla, the California-based start-up that has shown what electric vehicles are capable of delivering.
“Tesla gave a push to the market,” said Neusser. “We didn’t learn from its cars, but it did give us a push for things to come quicker.”
(Click Here for complete coverage of the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show.)