The electric GT reveals the great aspirations of Audi electric vehicles.
Since the Audi e-tron GT was unveiled on Monday, reporters at the Los Angeles Auto Show in 2018 are trying to solve the problem of its design. Does it mean an electric A7 low, ground, muscular, wide hips and R8 roof? Is it just an Audi version of the future Porsche Taycan electric supercar? Or do the seductive lines of the Audi e-tron GT contain a deeper message about the brand's intentions regarding electricity?
The answer is all the above. There is no doubt that Audi's designers were trying to create a familiar, four-passenger Audi sport sedan that turns out to be electric rather than a futuristic battery-powered concept that echoes the EV. "You may think it's conservative, but I think it's perfect," said Marc Lichte, Audi's chief designer at the Los Angeles Auto Show. "We've seen how more sophisticated cars can seem strange and they do not succeed."
Lichte praised the Tesla Model S, which he says follows more traditional notions of automotive aesthetics. At the same time, he said that Tesla started with a clean white sheet of paper. "But at Audi, we have a history with millions of customers driving our cars," said Lichte. "We had to link design to our history."
From my point of view, it's a winning decision. Audi's 100% electric GT should catch the eye of brand enthusiasts who love classic Audi design (and do not necessarily care about transitioning to clean electric fuel or saving the planet).
Two types of Audi electric vehicles: SUVs and Halo low floor cars
Audi's approach to deploying electric vehicles begins with the Audi e-tron SUV and its sportback variant – battery-powered vehicles for the heart of the ultra-popular crossover segment. These two vehicles, which should arrive next year, do not use many dazzling effects. Audi will also introduce an even more accessible crossover using Volkswagen's Volkswagen dedicated electric platform in 2020. That's three of the four upcoming Audi Audi's in the next two years.
But the e-tron brand will not consist of SUVs alone, which, according to designer Lichte, is relatively easy to pack with a big battery. "We have a clear strategy to create an electric family with two types of vehicles: SUVs, then a second line of halo, sports and low-floor cars," he said. The e-tron GT gets as close to the ground as possible by creating cutouts in the battery pack to leave room for passengers' feet.
It's fascinating to see Audi, step by step, add battery-powered vehicles throughout its range. The company claims that 30% of its sales will be electric vehicles by 2025. It is therefore logical to highlight some of the heritage of Audi sports cars. From where the GT e-tron, the fourth Audi EV coming into production. The first deliveries are expected early in 2021.
Long range and fast charge
The GT e-tron concept borrows not only the J1 architecture of the Taycan Porsche. He shares it. The key to this architecture is its ability to provide an ultra fast 800 volt load in which over 200 miles of range can be added in a 20 minute freeway stop. These are things that change the game. So do not let the exact form, features or potential price of the GT e-tron hang, as it is only the first vehicle with an Audi badge that will feature this fast loading capability. (And there are two years left.)
Audi has hinted that the GT e-tron is a stepping stone to more EV sedans – perhaps battery-powered A7 or A5, of classic appearance, using the same charging capabilities fast and long distance than the GT e-tron. These future-oriented models will use the next version of the Audi / Porsche EV architecture, called Premium Platform Electric (EPP). Audi says personal protective equipment will become the electrical base for all segments of high-volume vehicles.
Matthew Mostafaei, head of the e-tron vehicle, told me that Taycan's J1 system had been used in the GT unveiled in Los Angeles to advance the e-tron program while the PPE was being developed. The J1 architecture represents the first time that Porsche has taken the lead on a technology platform shared by both brands. Audi has developed the dynamics of the suspension and driving of the GT e-tron, as well as the exterior and interior design.
Charging capacity at speeds two to three times higher than those of a Tesla Supercharger requires a different battery design and a new way to cool the battery pack by extracting heat from the system. "We have doubled the number of cells in series to enable ultra fast charging," said Mostafaei. Fast charge stations being deployed, Electrify America, a subsidiary of Volkswagen, will also use liquid-cooled cables to manage heat.
In Los Angeles, Audi officials have repeatedly claimed that the e-tron GT battery pack was storing 95 kilowatt hours while the press release vaguely indicated "more than 90 kWh". This should be enough to provide a driving distance of about 300 km. , although the official press release sets the range at 400 kilometers using the WLTP standard. The announcement should also underestimate the performance of the GT at 3.5 seconds.
The greatest innovation in the design of the e-tron GT: the fake RS-inspired honeycomb grille, was the control of heat on the underside of the car. Andreas Mindt, an Audi exterior designer, convinced me that it's a myth that electric vehicles do not need grids like conventional vehicles. Yes, much of what appears to be a front grille on the fascia of the GT is closed. "There is an opening under the false grille that allows air to circulate through the cooler that cools the liquid that cools the battery," said Mostafaei. "It acts as a radiator."
The two front sockets located on either side of the grille pass the air directly around the wheels. And in the middle, the air passes the road through the hood to improve aerodynamics, which the Jaguar I-Pace does more openly. It is difficult to say to what extent these design features can manage battery temperature or reduce drag. But they are more appealing to me than, for example, the blunt front end of the Hyundai Kona Electric and the Tesla Model 3.
If these design features only add incremental gains, that's acceptable. Good design and engineering is a game of thumbs. You can also claim that Audi's use of vegan interior materials is a playful touch that gives Audi a chance to acquire a small ecological credit. What seems cooler and more useful is to put a level 2 charge port on both sides of the car for easier access.
False grid or no grid?
Chief designer Lichte, Audi, has repeatedly emphasized the importance of the single-frame dashboard of the GT e-tron. It houses the grille, which uses the same color as the vehicle bodywork while surrounding it on both sides in a darker shade. This is a reversal of Audi's usual design treatment. Not only is its appearance clear, but it will also help to conceal the location of cameras, radars and lidars used in the production version of the GT e-tron. Mostafaei said that these sensors are used to more accurately measure the speed of the vehicle and thus recognize and correct slippage, for example in difficult or snowy driving conditions. "We use all vehicle sensors to determine speed rather than individual sensors of wheel speed to determine slip, "said Mostafaei.
The deceptively useful frontal fascia is a good example of how the e-tron GT concept works much more than it is obvious. While we are all busy trying to decipher whether the hips of the electric GT look like an Audi TT or whether the roofline lowers like an R8, Audi is more focused on how to push the pace of change towards powertrains for electric vehicles, a super fast battery charge, and increasing levels of battery life. At the same time, they managed to produce the most beautiful electric vehicle since the Tesla Model S.
The volume production of the GT e-tron will start at the end of 2020. According to Audi, the price of the GT, which has not yet been announced, will be "competitive".