Audi is backing away from its initial idea of making its next-generation A8 sedan a battery-electric vehicle. Instead, the A8 will have a plug-in hybrid version with a more extended range.
The decision is part of a literally larger strategy. Audi says it will focus on full-electric SUVs because sales of large sedans are not showing growth while SUVs/crossovers do.
Still, Audi development chief Hans-Joachim Rothenpieler said the automaker decided against an all-electric A8 after intensive discussions. “We will instead expand the driving range of our plug-in hybrid to beyond 47 km,” the executive told Automotive News Europe.
The decision differs from the case of competitor BMW. CEO Oliver Zipse had confirmed in mid-March when presenting the annual figures, that BMW would build the 7 Series as a pure electric car. Mercedes too is expected to launch a sizeable electric sedan with the EQS in mid-2021, while Tesla has been selling the Model S since 2012.
However, Audi is coming from different technology than BMW: The Munich-based company has long been planning with platforms that can hold different drive technologies relatively easily. The Audi A8, on the other hand, is based on the VW Group’s Modular Longitudinal Construction Kit, or to be more precise, the second version called MLB evo. The e-tron quattro is also based on this construction kit, but with a few modifications. Since the e-tron as an SUV has a high-floor architecture, the in-house developments from this vehicle cannot be transferred directly to the flatter A8. This would probably involve more effort and costs – which would not be worthwhile due to the limited market prospects cited by Rothenspieler.
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Especially since a fully electric A8 based on MLB-evo would be a one-off development anyway. Audi is more likely to establish the Premium Platform Electric (PPE), that it is jointly developing with Porsche, as the electric counterpart to the MLB for the large combustion engine models – which relates to models from A4 to A8 and Q5 to Q8. The PPE is thus theoretically suitable for all-electric Audi models from the mid-range upwards – whether as a low or high-floor version for saloons and station wagons or SUVs and sport backs.
Although Audi has not made mention of concrete models, Porsche has said that the electric Macan is to become the first PPE model, indicating an order of magnitude. However, before the end of this year, Audi plans to launch the e-tron GT on the Taycan’s J1 platform developed by Porsche – albeit with a more sporty focus than the luxurious A8. The smaller Audi models – virtually the electric counterpart to the MQB combustion motor vehicles – will be based on Volkswagen’s MEB. The first of these vehicles, the Q4 e-tron, will also be built at the VW plant in Zwickau.
By the way, Audi’s decision against an electric A8 also breaks with a statement made by former CEO Bram Schot. The Dutchman, who led Audi until the end of March, had hinted in May 2019 that the next A8 would possibly only be offered as an electric car. As of April 1, after a long wait, former BMW board member Markus Duessmann took over from Bram Schot, as announced. Duessmann was also able to appoint a new member of staff straight away: Henrik Wenders will take over the branding and global marketing. Wenders is coming from the Chinese electric car startup Byton to Audi.
With reporting by Sebastian Schaal, Germany.
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