When we attended a Volkswagen press conference in July, company chairman Dr. Martin Winterkorn said, “In the future, the heart of Volkswagen will also beat with electricity.” He added that hybrid and electric vehicles will account for three percent of the German carmaker’s global sales by 2018.
In a sign that VW is making its way to that goal, Audi (VW’s luxury division) last week said that it will add an Audi A6 Hybrid sedan to its existing hybrid plans—which include the Audi Q5 Hybrid crossover (expected late next year) and a hybridized Audi A8 sedan in the works. But Audi has been making hybrid and EV announcements for years, and has yet to launch an electric-drive vehicle.
In Dec. 2008, U.K.’s Autocar reported that the Q5 was off the table, after canceling a Q7 Hybrid, quoting an unnamed company source who said, “Audi won’t produce a petrol-electric hybrid until we can make nickel metal hydride batteries safer in crash situations, and hybrid technology more efficient overall.” Until nickel metal hydrid batteries are safe—that’s a strange excuse—the source said the company will concentrate on diesel-powered vehicles for its efficiency strategy.
Has Anybody Seen the Q5 Hybrid?
Last month, a groovy corporate video animation popped up on YouTube showing that the Q5 Hybrid is very much in the works. The Audi Q5 Hybrid crossover pairs a 2.0-liter engine with a 44-horsepower electric motor to produce a combined 241-horsepower. That means a 0 – 62 mph speed of 7.1 seconds and a top speed of 138 mph. Low-speed electric-only driving can go up to 2 miles. The plot thickened when the Audi Q5 was reported to debut at the recent 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show, but never showed up.
Audi A6 Hybrid Coming Soon
The new Audi press release says a “soon-to-be-available” hybrid version of the Audi A6 Hybrid will follow after new gas- and diesel-powered versions make their debut in early 2011. Audi uses a slogan that many hybrid-producing carmakers are tossing around: The Audi A6 hybrid provides the power of a V6, combined with the fuel efficiency of a four-cylinder engine.
The Audi A6 Hybrid’s system closely matches the Q5 Hybrid. A 2-liter engine and electric motor combine via an 8-speed automatic transmission to produce 245 horsepower. The A6 Hybrid’s acceleration is a tiny bit slower at 0 – 62 mph in 7.3 seconds, but the top speed maxes at 148 mph. More importantly, the company expects combined city-highway mileage that translates to the mid- to low-30s in U.S. testing.
That’s a nice jump from the A6′s current mid-20s, but these numbers (and the company’s plans) should be taken with a grain of salt—if you look at parent company VW’s hybrid and electric plans. The VW Touareg Hybrid was promised to launch in 2010, but as of Nov. no sales have been reported, and there only a few weeks left in the month. (VW announced plans for a 2012 Jetta Hybrid, as well as gas-electric versions of the Passat and Golf in 2013.)
Volkswagen’s pure electric plans are just as hard to figure out. Earlier this year, Volkswagen made a big splash when it announced three electric cars by 2013—the E-Up! city car, as well as an electric Golf and an electric Jetta. But at the U.S. media launch for the E-Golf, which PluginCars.com attended last month, Volkswagen
significantly backed off. Audi has its own exciting plug-in hybrid and electric car plans.
Will Audi deliver on a luxury hybrid sedan that gets mileage in low-30s? That, of course, is a less important question than if VW and Audi will make its broader shift to efficiency and electrification? In one positive sign, the company last month said it had “commissioned” a new 150,000-square-foot development center, where 840 employees are working on hybrids and EVs. The company said it had invested $90 million in the facility over the past two years.