Electric vehicles are, undoubtedly, going to be the future of road-based transport.
For the past few years, Elon Musk’s Tesla has dominated conversation around the electrification of cars, but a shift is beginning to happen. Traditional automakers are moving into the space and it’s becoming increasingly clear that they really do know what they’re doing compared to the upstart newcomers.
Audi is one of the larger car manufacturers preparing to go all-electric in the coming years. By 2025, Audi plans to have at least 30% of its fleet running on either hybrid or all-electric engines. Currently, you can pick up hybrid-electric versions of both the Audi Q7 and the Audi A3 Sportback, but it’s the all-electric Audi e-tron that’s going to set the bar for all of Audi’s electric cars going forward.
Audi e-tron: Powering the future of Audis
Audi has tried hard to ensure that, despite being a completely electric car, the e-tron feels much like a traditional Audi at its core. To this end, there’s no “ludicrous” mode – which cranks up battery output to maximum – like in a Tesla; instead, Audi wants to keep parity with its petrol and diesel cars. If you find yourself in need of more power, you can just put your foot down instead of pressing a button to boost your car’s performance.
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Of course, just drawing more power from a battery whenever you want to isn’t that simple. To make sure the e-tron pulls power when you need it most, Audi had to get to work on an entirely new cooling system to keep its huge 700kg, 93kW battery in its peak performance window of 25-35 degrees. This thermal-management system draws in cool air in a similar manner to a traditional car radiator grill and then regulates temperature by piping coolant through to a heatsink-like set of millimetre-thick tubes that run underneath the array of battery cells.
The e-tron dynamically manages heat by tracking ambient temperature outside the car to decide if simply pulling in air while driving is sufficient enough to cool the battery. If the outside temperature is too warm, a compressor kicks in, cooling the liquid down to bring battery temperature down to optimal levels once again. Interestingly, it does the same when you’re quick charging at 150kWh to ensure the battery doesn’t overheat.
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By regulating this temperature, Audi guarantees the battery will last the life of the vehicle – which is the same 250,000km expected of all of its cars. Cooling also ensures that, when the driver demands extra power for overtaking or whatever driving condition they require, they can push the battery without worrying about it overheating or an artificial output cap being put in place.
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Audi e-tron: Putting safety first
Those worrying about battery safety should also have little to be concerned about. Audi claims that during the building of its battery housing, safety was paramount – to the point it prioritised it over shaving weight off the gargantuan unit.
The battery’s structure of 36 cells, each containing 12 pouches, is arranged so that a crash structure can sit between them, keeping both compartments separate and acting as an extra layer of cooling as heat is dissipated along the metal structure. In a crash, this means the batteries don’t crumple. Instead, the impact is absorbed and distributed along the battery housing’s thick chassis. This results in the battery generally retaining its structure, with each cell also remaining relatively intact. Audi claims this method outperforms current safety standards set for road cars – something many of us will appreciate after seeing what happened to this Tesla after a crash.
Audi is also legally obliged to provide a second onboard battery for in-car controls, such as for an electronic parking brake, hazard lights and other crucial in-car controls. This means that, even if you find yourself with a flat battery, you’ll still be able to run essential car functions until you can be rescued.
Audi e-tron: Audi’s ambition beyond automobiles
Interestingly, Audi also sees the e-tron as a jumping off point for the company to branch into something bigger than just building cars. Instead of simply being an automaker, it perceives its role as a mobility provider.
Stopping short of talking like an energy company would, Audi envisions a point in time where it might be supplying your home with solar panels and energy storage to help you completely electrify your homelife.
For now, though, Audi’s next step is to ensure that anyone who buys an e-tron really does get the full end-to-end service they deserve when hitting the road. To do this, Audi has looked into ensuring that people are always able to charge their car be it at home, on the road or at their destination.
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Aside from smart charging options at home – which work with home management systems like HEMS to intelligently charge your car when you need it and when electricity is at its cheapest – Audi is working on covering you away from the house. Ionity, an electric charging partnership formed between Audi, Volkswagen, Ford, Daimer, Porsche and BMW, is just one arm of Audi’s roadmap with plans to install 400 high-speed chargers across Europe by 2020. In the US, Audi is working with Volkswagen’s Electrify America initiative to ensure any of its US customers are also covered.
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Alongside Ionity, Audi has created an e-tron Charging Service that allows e-tron drivers to tap into an existing network of more than 40,000 chargers run by over 1,000 different providers across Europe. Audi representatives weren’t able to answer my questions around how this will work – such as will it be a paid-for extra or included as standard with every e-tron? – but it will let you access and pay for charging at almost every charging station in Europe with a single card.
Tapping into this network of chargers should also be a simple affair as you can plan routes that stop via chargers you can access if you can’t make it on a single charge. Audi’s myAudi app can also talk to the e-tron, letting you wander off for a coffee until your phone notifies you of sufficient charge to reach your destination.
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For Audi, e-tron isn’t just a new car, but the first steps in a new way of thinking. It’s about creating a complete package, ensuring that once you buy your shiny new electric Audi you’re not left high-and-dry because the world isn’t ready for electric vehicles just yet.
Obviously, the measures that Audi and its partners are bringing in aren’t going to happen overnight. Almost everything I saw at the vaulted testing room of Siemens’ Parabolic Hall won’t be a reality until mid-2019 to early 2020. But that’s fine, the Audi e-tron – if that’s even the vehicles final name – isn’t due to surface until late this year, with first road cars rolling out at some point in 2019. We can’t wait to try one out for ourselves.