Mainstream automakers are starting to push heavily into the zero-emissions game, adding electric vehicles and even hydrogen fuel cell cars to their product lineups.
Audi’s first major step in that direction is the e-Tron crossover, which goes on sale next month at a starting price of $74,800.
Trucks.com caught up with Matt Mostafaei, the product manager for the e-Tron, at the New York International Auto Show. Mostafaei is leading the German automaker’s entrance into the electric vehicle market. He discussed electrification in the consumer space and what the future holds for the brand. Here is an edited version of that discussion.
Most automakers offering EVs are offering small cars. Why did Audi make an SUV?
If you look at the luxury market, the SUV is by far leading the way in terms of where people are going and the cars that they want. We’re seeing that across the board with our traditional engine-controlled SUVs. It’s what we called the “C-segment.” So that midsized luxury SUV is really the sweet spot of the luxury segment. That’s why we wanted the e-Tron to fill that segment. It’s really the perfect fit for what customers want now.
Where do you see e-Tron fitting in among its rivals?
Essentially, it’s in its own sweet spot. The Jaguar I-Pace is a little bit smaller. The (Tesla) Model X is a little bit bigger. There’s really nothing in that C-segment in terms of EV SUVs. So that really helps us reach our customer who wants enough space to take five adults comfortably for a weekend trip somewhere with their luggage but doesn’t need something as big as Model X or something as small as an I-Pace.
Who is the target market for the e-Tron?
Anyone who wants a C-segment SUV whether they have kids or not. There’s space for kids and child seats in the back, and ample cargo behind that. You can get a front trunk with the car for additional cargo. Or it can be someone who just wants an SUV because it fits their lifestyle. And the EV aspect of it really makes it interesting. It opens a whole new realm of what a traditional customer would be. It’s really that they want an EV so that they can do well for the environment, for themselves, and just happens to be an SUV as well. It’s a broad range, let’s put it that way.
The e-Tron has 204 miles of range fully charged. What if someone wants to travel farther?
We partnered with Electrify America. They’re going to have almost 500 sites across the country by this summer, heavily concentrated in California. E-Tron buyers get 1,000-kilowatt hours of energy on Electrify America’s charging network included with the vehicle. That equates to roughly 2,000 miles of range. You can just plug in on their network, charge for free and just keep going.
If you leave with a full charge and stopped at one of their chargers along the way for that additional 50 miles of range, you’d need 10 minutes of charge. So you’re maybe grabbing a quick bite, maybe using the restroom, and then you’re on your way again. The range is there for what you need every day. For those longer trips, 250, 280 miles, you can stop quickly, charge up quickly and keep going.
Those are fast-charging stations?
Yes, they are fast. 150-kilowatt charging stations.
Will those be compatible with other makes or is that purely Audi infrastructure?
We use what’s called the CCS standard, which basically everyone uses except for Tesla. Most EVs should be able to utilize the Electrify America network as well.
The key difference is the charging speed. Right now the e-Tron’s the only CCS (vehicle) that can charge at 150 kilowatts. The I-Pace would be next at 100 kilowatts. So the speed of charge that we can do is higher than everyone else.
Many new crossovers and SUVs are getting the adventure treatment and can do at least light trailblazing. Does e-Tron fit into that?
Yes, it’s fully capable of doing some light off-roading. It comes with standard air suspension and with a standard ground clearance of 6.7 inches, you add another two on top of that. You can also get beefier tires. We have an aluminum sheet underneath the battery to help protect against any minor intrusions or punctures.
You get standard roof rails on the car so you can add roof racks. We have an optional factory trailer hitch as well so you can tow (up to 4,000 pounds) or throw on a bike rack on the back.
Do you see electric powertrains replacing internal combustion engines over the next 10 to 20 years?
I certainly hope so. It’s just a better technology all around in terms of efficiency and the driving experience. Once you get behind the wheel then you really don’t want to go back. It’s such a cool experience where you don’t have to wait for gears to downshift or the turbo to build up. You just hit the gas button and go.
I think the driving experience is there, the environmental benefits are obviously there. The economic benefits, there’s just so much that goes with driving EV that just makes it awesome.
Many buyers say the expensive upfront cost of an EV takes too long to recuperate. What do you think?
Once you start looking at the whole picture of an EV is when it really starts to make sense. For example, let’s take our e-Tron. It’s similar in size to the (Audi) Q8. After you factor in the tax credits, it (costs) a little bit less. Especially, depending on where you live. In California, you get $10,000 worth of tax credit for EVs when you combine state and federal taxes.
Editor’s note: California residents who earn more than $150,000 as single filers, $204,000 as head-of-house-hold filers and $300,000 as joint filers do not qualify for the $2,500 state tax rebates on EVs.
What about the costs of the battery technology itself?
As we get more and more batteries on the market it will drive the costs down just like any other piece of technology. Once the scale hits the price starts to come down. That will then be reflected onto the consumer. I think the key game changer will also be in infrastructure because as you get more of these long-haul (trucks) that need charging stations that then helps boost (the need for) infrastructure. It’s a win-win for everyone.
Beyond e-Tron, what’s next for Audi in electrification?
A ton. We’ve announced the e-Tron, and we have the sport-back version, which is a slightly more fast-back roof version of the car coming soon. And we have the e-Tron GT, which we showed (at the Los Angele Auto Show). We have the Q4 e-Tron that we showed at the (Geneva Auto Show) a few weeks ago. Beyond those our Premium Platform Electric (PPE) will be the main underpinning for our luxury vehicles. Right now, the platform is being finalized and built. Once we build that we can put different shapes and sizes of vehicles on it. It’s full steam ahead in terms of EVs here at Audi.