Audi Unveils A8 Hybrid and A1 Plug-in Hybrid Concepts

Both vehicles are still concepts, but Audi executives are promising to deliver on electric-drive vehicles.

Earlier this week at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show, Volkswagen promised to lift hybrids out of its niche status and to produce electric cars. Audi, Volkswagen’s luxury brand, echoed the sentiment, making a commitment to full hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and electric cars.

Rupert Stadler, Audi AG’s chairman of the board of management, said, “We shall offer electric power in the best possible forms for a wide range of mobility needs. The hybrid driveline will be followed by all-electric vehicles.” Michael Dick, Audi board member for technical development, added, “In due course plug-in hybrids will demonstrate their strong points when drivers expect to cover longer distances in the pure electric mode, in combination with a conventional engine.”

Audi plans to use the name “e-tron” for electric-drive vehicles, much the way the company uses “Quattro” as a synonym for all-wheel drive. In Geneva, Audi gave shape to its new commitment to hybrids and plug-in cars by unveiling two concepts: a full hybrid version of its Audi A8 large flagship sedan, and the A1 e-tron, a plug-in hybrid subcompact.

First Up: Audi Q5 Hybrid SUV

Unfortunately, Audi provided no details about the company’s first and only hybrid slated for production so far: the Q5 hybrid crossover SUV. It’s due in the US in early 2011. The Q5 hybrid, like the BMW X6 Hybrid, will try to compete with the Lexus RX 450h, which in recent months has become the best-selling hybrid SUV on the market. Sorry, no news on price or other specs are available for the Q5 hybrid.

Audi Q5 Luxury Hybrid Sedan

The only clues about the Q5 come from the Audi A8 hybrid concept on display in Geneva. It’s a full hybrid promising about 38 miles to the gallon—and
245 horsepower. Zero-to-60 times should be about seven-and-a-half seconds. The base price for a conventional Audi A8 is around $75,000, so the hybrid version likely will get grouped with other niche luxury hybrid sedans, like the Mercedes S400 Hybrid and the less expensive Lexus GS450h. If Audi can deliver on its promises, the Audi A8 will become by far the most efficient hybrid in the high-end luxury set.

The Audi A8 hybrid uses a parallel full hybrid configuration—combining a powerful 33 kWh electric motor and a 211 horsepower four-cylinder gas engine. According to Audi, the hybrid drive can propel the car on electric power alone up to 40 mph for a little more than a mile. The engine, which combines direct fuel injection and turbocharging, is a good example of Audi’s downsizing strategy. Small and compact lithium ion batteries are mounted in the car’s rear section, without interfering with luggage capacity.

Audi A1 Subcompact Plug-in Hybrid Concept

Audi A1 Subcompact Plug-in Hybrid Concept

Audi A1 Subcompact Plug-in Hybrid Concept

The A1 e-tron is the follow-up to the e-tron electric sports car shown earlier in Frankfurt and Los Angeles. That vehicle, while gorgeous, is mostly show. Four electric-drive motors, one for each wheel, pump out more than 300 horsepower. Electric fuel is stored in a sizable 53-kWh lithium ion battery pack. Edmunds reported that Audi is aiming for a selling price of around $160,000, with limited production volume of one or two hundred in 2012.

The A1 e-tron is a tiny, yet more practical, approach. The much smaller, and therefore more affordable 12-kilowatt-hour lithium ion battery, is matched up with a front-mounted 102-horsepower electric motor and an efficient lightweight 252cc Wankel rotary engine. That’s right, a gas-burning engine on board—an acknowledgment that a plug-in hybrid can solve the pure electric car’s problem of limited range. After 30 miles of all-electric driving, the gas engine allows for an additional 125 miles, according to Audi. The car is a subcompact, meaning that it’s probably targeted to crowded urban centers in Europe.

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  • Shines

    Boy I really like the LED headlights on Audis. Glad to see they’re joining the change to electric.
    On the other hand the (as they say) tiny A1 e-tron has a 30 mile all electric range and then uses a Wankel engine to extend it an additional 125 miles for a total range of 155 miles?!? I’m not impressed. I suppose not much gas will be needed to drive it that additional 125 miles… Will it cost less than $30k?

  • Anonymous

    more concepts, yawn…

  • Shines

    One reason for concepts is to spark discussions…

    …Oh well…

  • ms

    This is a concept with numbers, no electric car was ytested by audit.


  • AP

    It would certainly be the best looking hybrid yet. But using a Wankel engine is a very odd choice. They are very inefficient and difficult to make meet emissions. Hmmm…

  • Shines

    Hey AP you’re the engineer right? Wouldn’t a wankel be more efficient as a battery generator (smaller and higher winding) than a standard piston engine? Correct me if I’m wrong but Wankels may not be efficient as the drive engine for a car – requires low end torque to get the car rolling (for example). But as a smaller high winding motor to drive a generator there might be an advantage.

  • AP

    Shines, you might think so, but Wankel engines are actually very inefficient because their combustion chamber is very long and thin, with lots of surface area: it loses lots combustion energy as heat, instead of propelling the “crankshaft.” This cooling also greatly increases the amount of unburned fuel (which is quite small in piston engines), so emissions control is a problem.

    As the engine gets smaller, the surface area/heat loss problem becomes worse (the same reason a small fire easily dies, but a large fire tends to rage). This make the choice of a small Wankel (252 cc, vs. 1300 cc for their typical engine) puzzling. It should be less efficient still.

    It could be that they don’t want to make a piston engine that small, or that someone already makes a Wankel this size?

    Ironically, Wankels make great air compressors because they lose heat so effectively. But not very good engines.

  • Patrick Leonard


    Looks like VW is starting to question its all diesel strategy. Perhaps they have plans but all they have done up to now is nothing, just like PSA or GM. They are just showing prototypes as usual. They seem to have a hard time recognizing their mistake as if there was a shame in being wrong. In reality being wrong is part of the thinking process, but what is really wrong is being stubbornly wrong when facts are speaking for themselves. A plug-in hybrid is simply the best solution out there. It takes a large but still reasonably priced battery, it can be fueled by grid electricity and gasoline so it offers security, it can be evolved over time so it doesn’t wreak avok the car industry but allow a smooth change. Batteries can evolve to house more EV range, onboard standard engine generators can progressively be replaced by better more adapted generators. Maybe based on a Wankel engine or perhaps a linear direct piston engine; but that is another evolution story on its own.
    But for now, what’s important is to start mass production of the baseline plug-in hybrid; motors, a power management unit, a battery and a generator.
    We need to do this yesterday. So time for concepts, future plans and half measures is over. Now is the time for cutting metal.

  • TT

    Extremely compact and lightweight plus the smoothness and low vibration of wankel engines is what Audi is looking for in this concept car.

  • Paul Van Leasing

    I do like the look of the new A1, i enquired about getting and was told delivery would be 14 weeks, i cannot wait that long for a car, but i suppose that good things come to those that wait

  • tapra2

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