Audi e-tron Quattro and Sportback: New Tech Details on the Tesla Model X Rival ""

By | October 9, 2017

Audi-e-tron-Sportback-concept-104

Audi may have created a rather confusing pedigree for its e-tron brand; so far, there have been plenty of electric-motor-equipped teases but very few actual production vehicles beyond the A3 Sportback e-tron plug-in hybrid. But that will soon change as the company gives the e-tron brand three new battery-electric vehicles as centerpieces. The first will arrive in late 2018 for Europe and early 2019 for the United States.

Recent interviews we conducted with the automaker’s R&D chief, Peter Mertens, and its technical director for powertrain development, Siegfried Pint, give us a better idea of how the upcoming e-tron Quattro—and the swoopier e-tron Sportback variant that will follow it by less than a year—will shape up. These models will slot neatly between the Q5 and Q7 in size; the interiors are expected to closely follow the cabin look and layout of the new 2019 Audi A8, while exterior styling will closely hew to the appearance of the concepts bearing the same names.

Audi e-tron quattro concept

Audi e-tron Quattro concept.

These models most certainly won’t be “compliance vehicles,” as we refer to electrified versions of existing gasoline models engineered to earn California zero-emission-vehicle (ZEV) credits. Together they’ll be the first true rivals for the Tesla Model X—and the first from the Volkswagen Group built on a new set of battery-electric vehicle components developed both for global sale and volume production. Just as with those models, they’ll be offered at multiple battery sizes (at least two, in Audi’s case), corresponding to the driving range that’s needed.

Next-Level Charging

Charging is an important part of market acceptance. Audi confirmed that 150-kW CCS fast charging will be the high-speed charging base level for the production e-tron. That rate will allow them to regain more than 80 percent of charge—more than 200 miles recovered—in a half hour. Officials hinted that these models have been engineered to handle higher-power (perhaps 350 kW) fast charging but that the technology probably won’t be enabled from the start. Mertens confirmed that Audi and Porsche are working closely together on the platform and some core components, although he declined to say whether the two VW Group brands are sharing in the 800-volt charging system Porsche is reportedly still considering for its Mission E sedan.

Although there’s currently no publicly accessible 150-kW charging in the United States, that’s expected to change dramatically by the time the e-tron SUV launches in 2019. At that point, there will be in the neighborhood of 200 to 300 sites with 150-kW capability in the U.S. via Electrify America, plus a smaller number of additional sites from other charging providers.

Audi wireless chargingMertens confirmed that inductive (wireless) charging will play an important role in replenishing the e-trons’ batteries at home and work, although he wasn’t yet willing to disclose which supplier the company is working with. He did add that inductive charging will also be a “key technology” for the brand’s plug-in hybrids.

All-Weather Capability, Repeat Performance

Tesla’s vehicles tend to lose performance, we’ve observed on more than one occasion, after repeatedly tapping all-out acceleration. Audi’s Pint assured us that won’t be the case with these upcoming e-tron products, something we look forward to confirming in our own testing. “We have a requirement that the vehicle has to repeat its full power,” he said. “And the one parameter that enables you to repeat is having a low temperature in the electric-motor electronics and battery systems.”


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To that end, these models will all have enclosed liquid cooling for the battery, traction motors, and some other components. “Batteries without liquid cooling will not be seen in the future, as the cell technology that we have these days only works within a very narrow [temperature] range,” Pint said he anticipates.

Furthermore, the e-tron has been engineered as a global vehicle, Pint emphasized, so a lot of attention has been paid to battery cooling and the durability of the entire power and drive systems. Both the e-tron and e-tron Sportback will follow a two-supplier strategy—with pouch cells from LG or prismatic cells from Samsung both being accommodated for in the development process. Pint reported no cooling issues with either of the cells but said he appreciates the flexibility. “Our modules are built so that we can exchange cells without changing the battery housing,” he said. “It’s the same for both cell formats.”

Better Traction/Stability Than Models with a Tailpipe, Audi Says

All e-tron Quattro models will have all-wheel drive, of course. Base models will have a two-motor system (one in back, one in front), while an upper-spec model will have a three-motor system (two in back, one in front). The latter arrangement, Pint said, makes the e-tron corner “like a hunting dog chasing a rabbit,” and it allows for the transfer of torque both front to rear and, at the rear, left to right. Pint said that the top-spec Audis are capable of applying up to 1500 lb-ft of torque to a single wheel. Not that they’ll do that in production: “Our suspension engineers aren’t able to apply all that [torque], so we have a limit for vehicle safety,” he said.

Audi e-tron quattro concept

The system provides an opportunity for nuance, however. Because the torque can be fine-tuned within nanoseconds, the system can provide neutral handling across a wide range of speeds and dynamic situations, and it can support the lateral force at the tire, reducing polar inertia and theoretically making the car feel lighter than it is. It’s what gives the three-motor system in the e-tron SUV better all-weather traction and handling than any equivalent gasoline or diesel model, Pint said. So the three-motor will make it into production. “It’s already in testing, and I personally did some winter testing last winter,” he said. “It does perform really well.”

Motors That Avoid Conflict

Audi’s upcoming e-tron products will even be different at the motor level. The motors are seen as core components and thus won’t be farmed out to a supplier, said Pint. They’re developed and produced internally and, he revealed, probably won’t follow either the AC-induction design that you’ll find in the Tesla Model S or the permanent-magnet design from the Model 3 and many other models. Instead, Audi’s e-tron products will likely use specially designed current-excited synchronous motors.

“If you are able to develop and produce the rotor [the portion of the motor that rotates] properly, you get the best of both worlds—the efficiency and higher output of a permanent-magnet motor and an advantage at high speeds,” Pint said, adding that Audi doesn’t want to deal with the mineral and raw-material risks. “So we’re putting a lot of effort into magnet-free electric motors with the power density of a permanent magnet but the costs of an induction motor.”

e-tron logo on Audi Elaine concept

Quattro Performance for the 2020s?

While all of the above describes Audi’s first two all-electric vehicles, the e-tron and e-tron Sportback, the automaker has been mum about the third EV variant. Our best guess at this point is that it will end up being either a compact crossover an even more performance-focused model.

While any system involving in-wheel motors can be ruled out—these are for now essentially restricted to concept-car flights of fancy—the four-motor setup in Audi’s recent Aicon concept is something to take seriously. As a potential tease for an all-electric reinvention of the Audi Quattro, it’s certainly intriguing.

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