In spring of 2010, Audi and parent company Volkswagen AG joined a growing group of carmakers planning to integrate hybrid and electric drive into their model lineups. Among the several plug-in and hybrid-electric vehicles Audi unveiled at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show was the A8 hybrid. Though details about the car were scarce at the time, Audi this week confirmed it for production and revealed a wealth of new information about the forthcoming luxury hybrid sedan.
In a press release, Audi announced that the A8 hybrid will enter production in 2012, and will carry a 211-horsepower four-cylinder engine supplemented by a 54-hp electric motor. Combined, the powertrain will net a maximum 245-hp and provide 345 lb-ft of torque. The car can run on electric power alone at speeds of as much as 62 mph for up to 1.8 miles, and has five distinct operating states: gas-only, electric-only, gas-electric, battery recuperation, and power-boosting. Twin displays will show what state the car is operating in, giving the driver a choice between pure-EV mode when the battery is charged, D mode for maximum gas-electric efficiency, and S mode for more power.
Audi claims the A8 will achieve slightly less than 37 mpg in overall fuel efficiency, though because the car is yet to be confirmed for U.S. production that number is likely to result from the far more generous European test cycle. Currently, the most fuel-efficient A8 available in the United States is the 8-cylinder model, which achieves a combined EPA-rated 21 mpg.
Audi is in the process of diversifying its powertrain options, and will offer five different versions of the A8 in Europe beginning next year. American customers can look forward to diesel versions of the A8, A6, and Q5 sometime in the next two years, with the A8 TDI delivering an estimated 35.6 mpg (also under the Euro test cycle.) Audi is rumored to be considering adding a plug-in hybrid version of the A4 to its lineup as well, though that car would also be unlikely to initially be available in the U.S.
Why are Audi and other luxury European carmakers so reluctant to immediately bring hybrid and plug-in electric versions of their cars stateside? Because they don’t have to. Europe is several years ahead of the United States in escalating its fuel economy standards—meaning that companies like Audi can, for the time being, meet the American CAFE mandate with more efficiently tuned gas cars and a smattering of new TDI models. If consumer demand for fuel economy rises in U.S., it’s likely that many of these manufacturers might speed up their plans to bring their hybrid and electric models here. Otherwise, Americans may have to wait until rising government standards catch up with Europe.