Electric cars flood the luxury market – Sydney Morning Herald
BMW’s i8, pictured in concept form, is expected to eke supercar performance from a super-frugal drivetrain.
The name may not be terribly attractive, but your future luxury car could very well be an EV, a HEV or a PHEV. According to Audi, about 40 per cent of cars by 2030 will fall into these rhyming categories.
Telsa has already released an EV – a fully electric vehicle – in the sports car class and will follow with the Model S luxury sedan around October. It will be priced from $91,400 plus on-road costs. BMW’s impressive all-electric i3 city car will join the EV class in mid-November, from $63,900.
Porsche’s Panamera S E-hybrid can drink as little as 3.1L/100km or sprint to 100km/h in 5.5 seconds – just not at the same time.
And HEV? That’s a hybrid electric vehicle. The most famous example is Toyota’s Prius, but sister brand Lexus pioneered the hybrid vehicle at the prestige end of the market with various models that combined petrol and electric drivetrains in the one vehicle to improve economy and lower emissions.
Almost all other luxury car makers now have some sort of hybrid offering, and most of these can drive short distances on electric power alone. It’s usually a few kilometres at best, however.
Plug and play
The A3 e-tron Sportback is Audi’s first plug-in hybrid and will serve as a taxi at Hamilton Island Race Week.
To many, the PHEV – or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle – is the most promising option. This can allow commuter-style distances to be covered on electric power alone with no local emissions. The batteries can then be recharged, as the acronym suggests, by a home or office powerpoint rather than recharged by a petrol or diesel engine, as in the case with a hybrid vehicle.
Audi is bringing five examples of its first plug-in hybrid, the super-economical A3 e-tron Sportback, to Australia in August as part of a teaser campaign before local sales start early next year.
These left-hand-drive versions will be used as “taxis” during Hamilton Island Race Week, then demonstrated to potential customers on the mainland.
With an electric power system and a 1.4-litre petrol engine that can work separately or in concert, the A3 can travel up to 50 kilometres on battery power alone. That’s enough for many workers to do their weekday trips without using any petrol at all. Come the weekend, the 500-kilometre round trip to the mountains can be achieved by adding conventional petrol power.
This is the big advantage over a pure electric car (or, at least, one using today’s technology). The BMW i3, for example, would require you to stop every 140 kilometres or so for a lengthy recharge.
The advantage of a hybrid is in fuel economy. The A3 e-tron Sportback achieves an almost implausibly low figure of 1.5 litres per 100 km, while emitting just 35 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre. By comparison, the purely petrol-powered Toyota Corolla hatch’s figures are 7.1 L/100 km and 166g/km.
However, that stunning Audi figure is calculated to a madly complex laboratory formula that takes into account at least some of the power already stored in the batteries (which obviously has a cost to it as well). The real-world figure will depend on how far you travel on electric power and how far on petrol (and, of course, how fast).
The A3 – to be priced from around $60,000 – is the first Audi plug-in hybrid, but the company has vowed to produce some sort of electrically assisted vehicle in every model series.
As for that prediction about 2030, Audi believes that although 40 per cent of all vehicle sales will have some kind of electrification, 80 per cent will still use a traditional combustion engine, one way or the other.
Porsche steals a march
Surprisingly perhaps, Audi has been beaten to the PHEV punch here by Porsche, which has ever-so-quietly put its Panamera S E-hybrid sedan on sale, albeit at a very different price point.
At $299,200 plus on-road costs, this combines a 70-kilowatt electric motor, which can take the car to 135km/h on its own, with a 3.0-litre V6.
Despite being limousine large and heavy (five metres long and 2095kg), Porsche’s S E-hybrid returns an official combined figure of 3.1L/100km, with 71g of carbon dioxide per kilometre.
And, on days you aren’t worried about saving energy, you can hit 100km/h in a sports-car-like 5.5 seconds and keep accelerating to 230km/h (in the right circumstances).
Porsche Australia has also announced that a Cayenne SUV with the same plug-in drivetrain will be seen here before the end of this year. Last year it launched the 918 plug-in supercar, but only in left-hand drive, so none can be registered in Australia.
The Panamera plug-in can travel up to 36km purely on its batteries, though the company warns that in certain conditions, such as very hilly terrain or hard driving, that could fall to as low as 18km (the Audi figure is subject to similar variance).
To get the message out, the company has begun a road show. Porsche’s Paul Ellis says potential customers can arrange to have the technology explained to them at dealerships and then borrow the car for some real-world testing.
“This is how we will sell this car and future hybrids. It will be one-to-one marketing. Special car. Special technology. Special people interested.”
The plug-in limo
Mercedes-Benz says it is very keen to bring in the newly announced plug-in version of its S500 limousine. However, according to spokesman David McCarthy, the low expected volumes and relatively high price make it a challenge, as do the lack of any government incentives (which are common for such vehicles in Europe and individual US states). The price is likely to be around $300,000, in line with the Porsche. Performance and efficiency should be roughly similar, too; Benz claims equivalent performance to its V8 S Class, coupled with eco-hatch type economy and emissions.
A little further down the track, but more likely to achieve serious cut-through in this market, is the C350 plug-in hybrid, based on Mercedes-Benz’s smaller C-Class model. It will make its debut late next year and could be sold here for closer to $100,000.
Elsewhere though, the $300,000 figure does seem to be prevalent for prestige plug-in hybrids. Perhaps the most visually stunning of them all is the 250km/h BMW i8 sports car, on sale here from March next year at $299,000. In keeping with the extra education and marketing efforts that seem necessary with such cars, BMW will bring in a few examples of the i8 in October to introduce to potential customers.
Lexus has said on various occasions it has no immediate plans for either EVs or PHEVs, claiming the added complexity and expense is something buyers generally aren’t prepared to pay for.
The next logical leap to make from its current HEVs, Lexus’s Mark Templin has said, is to hydrogen vehicles.
Watch this space.
This article first appeared in the Australian Financial Review’s Life & Leisure magazine.