Audi Says Plug-in Hybrids Are the Future, A3 E-tron Possible for U.S.
- The redesigned 2014 Audi A3 goes on sale in the U.S. as a sedan only in the first quarter of 2014. The hatchback will not be offered.
- Audi officials say that an E-tron plug-in hybrid version of the U.S.-spec A3 is a possibility, but it has not been confirmed for North America.
- The natural gas-fueled A3 G-Tron is far less likely for U.S. export, because its existence has much to do with the availability of tax incentives in Germany.
GENEVA — Of all the fuel-saving technologies out there, plug-in hybrids are the most viable in the long term, Audi officials told a panel of U.S. reporters at the 2013 Geneva Auto Show.
In Geneva, the company showed both plug-in hybrid (E-tron) and natural gas (G-Tron) versions of the redesigned Audi A3, but the automaker will put the largest share of its resources into the plug-in hybrids.
"Plug-in hybrids are the future," said Reiner Mangold, head of Sustainable Product Development for Audi AG.
Notably, the company has no immediate plans for an all-electric production car. "There's too much limitation in range," Heinz Hollerweger, head of Total Vehicle Development, told reporters. He contends that faster chargers aren't what consumers want. Rather, they want to keep going to their destination without pausing to top up the batteries. For EVs to be viable, he said, they need to offer 800 km (497 miles) of driving range on a single charge.
"But I mean 800 km not only on paper, but 800 km for the consumer," he added. "This is big issue with battery technology, because with a combustion engine, you get heating for free, but with with a battery car, you have to take all the heating out of the battery, and all the lights for the car out of the battery, and all these additional systems out of the battery, and the range decreases quickly."
The Audi A3 E-tron plug-in hybrid hatchback goes on sale in Europe in early 2014, which is about when the revamped A3 will finally arrive in the United States. Our A3 will only come in the sedan body style. Although Audi officials acknowledged that an E-tron plug-in version is a possibility, they wouldn't confirm that it's a done deal. The company hasn't even confirmed which engines we'll see in the conventional A3 models, but updated versions of the 2.0-liter TFSI gasoline four-cylinder and 2.0-liter TDI diesel four are likely.
The A3 E-tron is a parallel hybrid like our Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid, as it combines the company's turbocharged and direct-injected, 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with a front-drive electric motor and a six-speed, dual-clutch automated manual transmission. The main difference compared to the Jetta version is that the plug-in A3 features a much larger-capacity 8.8 kWh lithium-ion battery pack versus the VW's 1.1 kWh pack. Total system power on the A3 E-tron is 204 horsepower, and it has a claimed 31 miles of all-electric range. Recharging takes two-and-a-half hours at a 220-volt outlet with the car's 3.6kW charger.
Meanwhile, the Audi A3 G-Tron also on Audi's stand in Geneva is a project borne out of excess electricity-generating capacity at wind farms in northern Germany. The automaker has a partnership with a German utility company, and it will use that wind-generated electricity to produce synthetic natural gas, which it's calling e-gas. That's considered a sustainable fuel, and it's eligible for tax incentives from the German government.
The A3 G-Tron, which goes on sale in Germany at the end of 2013, can be fueled with e-gas (which customers can purchase via a prepaid contract when they buy one of these cars) or natural gas of any other origin sold at gas stations. Audi expects to sell the A3 G-Tron to a 50/50 mix of retail and fleet customers.
The main advantage to buying one of these natural gas A3s, other than the sustainable angle, is that CNG is only half as expensive at the pump as normal gasoline is in Germany. Given that gasoline is comparatively cheap in North America, it's highly improbable that Audi would go to the trouble of exporting it to the U.S.
Edmunds says: You're much more likely to see an A3 E-tron plug-in hybrid at your Audi dealer than the CNG A3 G-Tron. But don't expect to see a hybrid A3 any sooner than late 2014.