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.”
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.
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.”