Monday, 9 July 2012
Just about everyone reading this will, I suspect, know that the Le Mans 24 hour race was won this year by an Audi R18 e-tron quattro. And back in May, the 6-hour race at Spa-Francorchamps was won by an Audi R18 ultra. The difference between this two cars? The ultra is driven by a (relatively) conventional 3.7 litre V6 turbo-charged diesel engine and the e-tron quattro has the power of the engine supplemented by an electric motor, which is charged by a flywheel, spun up to speed when the car is braking. Now that's about as far as my technical knowledge goes, but I am aware of how Audi's technical endeavours on the race-track are quickly reflected by their offering in the road car market. And as an Audi customer, I find it interesting that, I can buy a TDI-engined Audi featuring "ultra lightweight technology", from my local Audi dealer, but I cannot get a hybrid Audi, despite the win at Le Mans, and unlike rival Toyota. So what's going on? Happily, David Ingram, PR Manager for Product and Technology at Audi UK has filled me in with the details, which I share for no other reason really than that it is interesting... Audi's "first generation" road car hybrid technology is currently available on the Q5 (but not in the UK). Later this year, a hybrid A6 will be available, and next year (probably) UK customers will be able to buy a hybrid A8. The conventional power source on these cars will in all cases be the four cylinder, two litre TFSI (petrol) engine. This will be supplemented by an electric motor that will be charged under deceleration, providing sufficient energy to power the car on purely electric power for a maximum of around 3km. Despite having "hybrid" powertrains, these cars will not be given the "e-tron" branding, as this will be reserved for Audi's next generation of hybrid, which will probably not be released until 2014. These will have a larger capacity battery, which will be capable of being plugged into the mains to charge - as well as being charged on deceleration, as in the first generation car. Visitors to Goodwood's Festival of Speed might have seen a concept of the A3 e-tron on display in the Audi pavilion. This has an electric-only range of about 50km. Audi's principle is that the e-tron badge will be given to any car that can be plugged into mains electricity to charge the battery pack. The first e-tron road car to be introduced is the A8 e-tron, (before the end of this year, I am told) - and this will be pure electric, not a hybrid. Whilst I do not for a moment doubt Audi's commitment to improving road car technology through its racing, and the importance of aligning the racing and road car activities, I do sense slightly that there was a case, this year, of the hybrid racer being introduced purely to take advantage of regulations, rather than necessarily to promote Audi hybrid drivetrain in its production car range. The Le Mans 24 hours is more important than a marketing exercise.