Tesla Motors has reigned over the young electric car market since introducing the Model S three years ago, and hopes to extend its dynasty with the Model X crossover sport utility vehicle. But the big automakers are catching up, and hope to take the crown.
Chevrolet says it will beat Tesla in the race to offer a long-range, affordable electric car. At the other end of the spectrum, luxury automakers in Britain and Italy are going after Tesla’s near-monopoly on well-heeled buyers interested in battery power. Audi is splitting the difference. The company, which says 10 percent of its cars will be plug-in hybrids or fully electric by 2025, says it will have a fully electric SUV with about 250 miles of range in dealerships in 2018.
Now, that sounds an awful lot like the Model X, but Audi is no stranger to cars with cords. It wowed us with the gorgeous R8 e-tron concept before offering the more pedestrian A3 Sportback e-tron plug-in this year. But now is a really good time for the company, which is owned by Volkswagen, to embrace batteries and go green(er). More than 2 million of its diesels ran on the software designed to cheat on emissions testing, according to Reuters.
If you’re trying to get customers to do something different, it makes sense to make that new technology just one part of a package they already know and like. Audi’s battery-powered SUV, which looks a bit like the Model X but without the falcon doors, is the auto industry version of slipping broccoli into your kid’s mac and cheese. “The trick here is to build a car that a lot of customers want to buy,” says Scott Keogh, Audi’s head of US operations. And since people can’t get enough SUVs—together with similarly sized and shaped crossovers, they accounted for 34 percent of US new car sales last year—that seems like a good way to go.
A big part of the vehicle’s appeal will be a 250-mile range (which mirrors that of the, you guessed it, Model X) that will cover just about any trip you’d take. Still, Keogh says, potential customers tend to focus on that one percent of the time an EV won’t work for them, like that annual trip to the in-laws’ for Thanksgiving. “We want to make that leap as safe and potentially easy as possible,” Keogh says.
That’s where the second part of Audi’s plan comes in: It’s working on a nationwide network of 150-kilowatt charging stations, which will be powerful enough to fill a 95-kWh battery to 80 percent full in 30 minutes and sound a lot like Tesla’s Supercharger network. Audi says it will be in place before the unnamed SUV goes on sale. It hasn’t revealed what that would look like or how many stations it would include, but Keogh says the company’s not interested in making a proprietary charging network only its customers could use.
So that’s one way the company’s plans differ from Tesla’s.