Published October 26, 2012
By Jeff Cobb
Audi’s A8 e-tron, first shown in Frankfurt as a concept in 2009, and until recently said to be due for production early in 2013, has been postponed until further notice, and the project may be canceled altogether.
Citing factors including high battery costs, limited range performance for the money, and possible lack of sufficient customers, Car & Driver magazine this week reported that Wolfgang Dürheimer, Audi’s new head of R&D put a halt to the development.
The magazine said it was “explicitly” told the R8 e-tron project may not be restarted with battery costs and range among the top prohibitive obstacles, among “numerous” reasons.
The publication also called out those in the battery industry who it says have over-hyped battery technology, promising a “game-changing” increase in energy density is always right around the corner.
However, there is truth to the assertion batteries are getting better – but also true is that critical questions remain as to by how much? and how soon? – and the fact is until a perceived adequate paradigm shift is delivered, it does remain talk. Promising projects to develop new and existing technologies are underway, but apparently not fast enough for the German automaker.
The Audi R8 e-tron prototype over the last few years has in demonstration runs been known to run out of juice at inopportune times – such as Le Mans in 2010. More recently in June this year, it was seen turning hot laps at the ever-popular and not particularly secret testing track that is the Nürburgring, where an EV lap record was recorded.
Audi's ultimate EV had previously been reported by various publications to have MSRP estimates ranging in 2009 at around $150,000 when it was reported as due in 2012 to as high as $242,000 this year when described as a 2014 model.
The company also showed off such innovations in the R8 e-tron as digital rear-view mirrors, and a video highlighting development of its e-sound signature to warn off pedestrians with an aural tone suitably evocative for a high-end e-sports car.
Car & Driver said it was planning a shootout with the pending – and not canceled – Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Electric Drive, but this comparison now appears as though it will not happen.
So now at the upper echelon level – perhaps more understandable than entry level – Audi has backed away to leave fellow German automaker Mercedes to continue onward – not unlike how Toyota brass in Japan have said they would back away from all-electric small city cars, while Nissan is going full-bore ahead.
At this juncture it appears even manufacturers that have initially jumped into EV development may portray production electric cars either as good-enough and getting better, or not ready for prime time – depending on perceived market and technological realities combined with an automaker's own in-house risk tolerance.
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