Exclusive: Audi VP Says Brand’s Electric Car Plan Is All Encompassing

MAR 12 2019 BY BRADLEY BERMAN 23

Audi’s vice-president of product management said its first four EVs are just the beginning.

Audi took the wraps off its all-electric Q4 e-tron compact SUV last week in Geneva. So we now have our clearest look so far at the four electric vehicles that Audi will bring to the United States before the end of 2021.

It’s tempting to get lost in the details of specific features of these electric Audis: the e-tron SUV, its Sportback variant, the GT version first revealed in Los Angeles, and now the Q4 electric concept.

But at the Geneva show last week, I also took a big step back to gauge the broader dimensions of Audi’s electrification efforts. With that goal in mind, I spent time with Filip Brabec, vice-president of product management at Audi of America. He has broad responsibilities that include product planning, portfolio planning, North American pricing, launch management, and EV charging infrastructure. It was a rare opportunity to speak about EVs directly with a key decision-maker – a chief strategist and product planner – for a major automotive brand.

The US is very conducive to mass adoption of electric vehicles.

Brabec did not mince words. He described Audi’s commitment to electric vehicles as “all-encompassing.” He said that Audi is going into “every segment with fully electric cars that are dedicated, committed, decided, and in development.”

While Brabec focused on the first four EVs arriving in the next two-and-a-half years, he also pointed to what’s around the corner. “We’re not stopping with what we’re showing here in Geneva,” he told me. “In the short- to medium-term, we have three more electric vehicles in addition to what we’re showing here.”

Brabec did not provide specifics about those future EVs but suggested that the list of Audi electric models coming relatively soon would reach deep into the brand’s portfolio of vehicles. “Our commitment to EVs is vast,” he said. “It includes the complete portfolio of products from small ones to big ones to medium ones, to SUVs and cars, and everything else.”

The Q4 e-tron will be the most affordable of Audi’s new EVs.

How far could Audi go? I asked Brabec if he could envision a not-too-distant future where there are no internal combustion vehicles offered by the Audi brand. “The answer is yes. We do,” he replied. “The question is when and how that happens.”

Keyword: Mainstream

As we reported during our first drive of the e-tron SUV, the fundamental strategy being employed by Audi is to make its electric vehicles as normal and accessible as possible – moving Audi brand loyalists seamlessly into an EV.

Brabec said that Audi sees EV adoption quickly breaking out from its historic California confines. “The rest of the country is coming online fast with EVs,” he said. Brabec firmly stated that Audi will always roll out its electric vehicles in all 50 states. “This was never an exercise for legislation. This was a mainstream decision to go electric, and that is why we are launching these cars like any other Audi we launch.”

Brabec was especially excited about the development of Audi’s own dedicated electric platform. For its first four electric vehicles, the brand is using EV platforms borrowed from Volkswagen and Porsche. But it’s next set of vehicles will allow Audi to determine the vehicle dimensions, wheelbase, battery type and size, and charging capability – all to optimize the electric experience for maximum accessibility to mainstream Audi buyers.

Short-Term Obstacles

Brabec, who has been with Audi for 20 years, is as clear-headed about his EV intentions as he is impeccable with his attire. He spoke openly about the challenges that need to be overcome to achieve Audi’s ambitious electric goals.

“There are still big challenges in the industry with batteries. Supplies are limited,” he said. But he described that challenge as “short-term.” He also spoke about cost, explaining that the race to lowering the cost to about $100 per kilowatt-hour for installed EV batteries is “not happening as fast we would like.”

The sporty e-tron GT goes into production late next year.

While he believes that there are charging infrastructure limitations in Europe, that’s not the case in North America, according to Brabec. “The US is very conducive to mass adoption,” he told me. He believes that opinion leaders in the US will start to influence everyday buyers to see how cool battery-electric vehicles can be – thus creating a “critical mass.”

Meanwhile, Audi announced in Geneva that it will introduce more plug-in hybrids. Three models – the A7, A8, and Q5 – will be headed to the United States. Nonetheless, he doesn’t see Audi plug-in hybrids as coming in “a massive, bigger portfolio.”

Audi will likely only target about 20 miles of all-electric range for its plug-in hybrids. “I don’t think we will ever take it to 40 or 50 miles,” he said. “That’s because we see at that point the switch to battery-electric vehicles as a more a natural thing. We see plug-in hybrids as a kind of in-between step because not everybody in the marketplace is ready for fully electrified cars.”

What could be viewed as another challenge – not by Brabec as much as by EV enthusiasts – is Audi’s decision not necessarily to maximize efficiency and range. Instead, the company is willing to trade a few pounds of extra weight and therefore a few miles of reduced range in exchange for added ride quality, interior comfort, and safety.

The electric models, including the e-tron SUV due in dealerships later this month, have not received an official range rating – but they are expected to be lower than the chief competition.

“Some people insist on having 20 more miles of range. We may or may not be able to convince that customer,” said Brabec. “But the question is what car we are offering. And is that car satisfying for everyday driving? We think that we have the best formula.”

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23 Comments on "Exclusive: Audi VP Says Brand’s Electric Car Plan Is All Encompassing"

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Audi should drop making hybrids. They are not sustainable.

The largest percentage of sub 50 mile PHEV drivers don’t even plug in most of the time, and just drive them as ICE/Hybrids. Still filling up every week. Buying them to get the hybrid, tax credit and to drive in HOV lanes(which has been restricted in many cities).

But PHEV tech is what most ICE manufacturers have to offer right now, and gets them the CARB numbers they need whether consumers actually drive the miles electric or not. But as Audi admits, it’s just bridge technology since VW Group has already committed to going all in the next 10 years(or so).

Either way, Audi does have some nice EVs coming. I am now waiting to hear about the A4 and A6 sedan e-Tron EVs.

We need more options. I already have 3 Model 3s in the neighborhood(that I have seen) already of 800 homes. And this is before the $35k models are delivered.

The problem with plug-in hybrids is their pathetic electric-only range and inability to fast charge. So now we have a growing problem where plug-in hybrids are taking up limited EV charging spaces and BEV drivers that may NEED charging access can’t get it. Worse is when a plug-in hybrid pulls into a fast charging station and takes up time to slow charge, denying BEVs the use of the fast charge capability. This could be a growing problem in the near term with the proliferation of plug-in hybrids from German and Asian manufacturers, until such time as fast chargers become more numerous. So instead of a PHEV being a useful stepping stone to wider BEV adoption, they could end up creating a barrier by reducing availability of limited fast charging infrastructure for BEVs that can fast charge and need to fast charge to make longer trips practical.

That depends on the market they are sold (and if the customers care at all). In Norway, with expensive fuel ($6-7 a gallon) PHEVs are used a lot. I see people I work with that drive EV only to and from work. At work they slow charge at block heater outlets all day, and are ready to drive EV only home again. With out fuel prices, they save a lot of money AND they get a car that has the right temperature when they enter the vehicle in the morning or afternoon. The EV part was used so much that BMW for example had to create a new gas cap – to keep the gas fresher, since it stayed in the tank for a really long time. I have coworkers that fill up their PHEV car once every two month or so. The range on PHEVs on the other hand is important. For one, it’s not good to drive around with a heavy battery when in ICE mode – but better and more energy dense batteries come “all the time”. So they will slowly get a better range. They will probably have an ever increasing range, as battery tech improves.… Read more »

And PHEV with >50 km range can make all city driving electric. Big cities in Europe and the world in general need this. Avoid local emissions and less dust from brakes because regen braking.

Audi should drop making cars. They are ugly, unreliable and just expensive VW

He said that Audi is going into “every segment with fully electric cars that are dedicated, committed, decided, and in development.”

That commitment then should be displayed in the total annual number of units of each EV models that they will enter the market with, right?

No waiting lists of more than three months when a customer will order his/her Audi EV model, right?

Waiting lists aren’t uncommon for any popular new vehicle, be it electric or not. And they are pretty much unavoidable, unless they set initial production for a way higher volume than the sustained demand… Which would be extremely inefficient.

You sound like a Tesla shorter setting intentionally unrealistic goals for that company just so you can beat them up for failing.

Depends on how popular a model is. The upcoming Q4 e-tron for example is likely to be more popular than the GT and thus may have a longer waiting period.

The comment about $100/kWh batteries is interesting, to say the least.

Right now, we have two battery races happening simultaneously: One involving producing enough car-size packs, and a second involving the price/kWh.

The production race is troublesome. Many of us here have done the back-of-envelope calculations to figure out how many Gigafactories it will take to supply worldwide EV production by 2025 or 2030 if all car companies come close to keeping their promises, and it’s a scary big number.

To make things even nastier, these two races interact. If supply can’t comfortably meet demand, which seems likely, then car companies will bid up the prices as they compete for the existing production. There’s a good chance this will widen Tesla’s cost advantage in pack production, even if they can’t drive their costs dramatically lower.

Yes Lou, I think the evidence is already clear that Tesla has both a healthy cost advantage and a supply advantage on extremely large numbers batteries and these advantages will continue to grow for the foreseeable future and this will continue to increase Tesla’s impressive lead position already as the dominant manufacturer of compelling EVs.

Being that Tesla is in talks with CATL for batteries in China, I’m wondering if they are in almost exactly the same issue, Battery factories just can’t be financed and built fast enough.

Experience from other commodity growth markets, such as memory chips or solar panels, shows that supply shortages tend to be fairly rare and mostly limited to the early days of growth periods; while long-term, efforts to grab the biggest future market share tend to result in near-constant over-capacities and rock-bottom prices. I don’t expect the battery market to be any different in the medium to long term.

Every KWh shipped does reduce oil demand by about 1bbl/yr tho…

Oil glut keeping gas under $4 will militate against BEV adoption…

Just a comment:
Noone in North America (or anyone outside the several corp. HQ in Germany & elsewhere in Europe) is a key decision-maker for Audi, or any other VW Group brand.
North American employees are marketing people primarily, and have minor input into specs of future vehicles at the design stage, but that’s it.

As far as I know the C-BEV is Audi’s own platform already. While the Q4 is based on the MEB platform from VW and the e-tron GT is heavily based on the Porsche J1.

What is the “C-BEV”?…

The e-tron and e-tron Sportback are conversions of the MLB combustion car platform. Most future Audi BEVs will be built on the PPE platform being co-developed with Porsche. Cheaper models will keep using MEB.

C-BEV is Audi’s EV platform and J1 is Porsche’s. The two brands have now joined forces for a united PPE platform moving forward.