Audi's All-Electric SUV Is Germany's First Serious Shot Across Tesla's Bow

Audi revealed its first-ever electric vehicle before a crowd of nearly 2,000 in San Francisco on Monday and hinted at a sleek, battery-powered sports car to come.

The 2019 Audi e-tron, an all-electric crossover, will be able to travel up to 248 miles on its 95-kWh battery. Starting at just under $75,000, it will reach dealer showrooms early next year and is squarely positioned to compete with the bevy of new models coming from rival luxury brands.

With similar dimensions to Audi’s Q5 mid-size SUV, the five-passenger e-Tron is—perhaps surprisingly—a workhorse, with a large trunk and a 4,000-pound towing capacity.

“When you tell an engineer that you want an electric car with lots of range, they don’t immediately jump to SUV as their first choice for obvious reasons of physics,” Marc Lichte, Audi’s head of design, told reporters at an event before the reveal. “We wanted to create, for lack of a better term, a very normal car. We wanted a real SUV.”

Lichte said Audi will eventually produce variants of the e-tron. He also said that the automaker plans to reveal a “very wide, very low, very fast” electric vehicle at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November.

Compared to designing vehicles that run on gasoline, working with electric powertrains is “a big change, like a heart transplant,” Lichte said.

Slow to start, automakers now are racing to electrify their lineups globally. Volkswagen Auto Group, which owns Audi, is investing $48 billion in battery technology to equip 16 factories that will produce 27 electric models within the next five years. Porsche, another VW brand, is spending $7.4 billion to electrify half of its lineup by 2025. Next year, it will launch its first electric vehicle, the Porsche Taycan, a 600-horsepower sports car that can travel more than 300 miles on a fully charged battery. Porsche has also shown a concept for an electric crossover.

So far, the only all-electric luxury SUVs currently on sale are Tesla’s Model X and Jaguar’s I-Pace. The Model X, which comes with either a 75- or 100-kWh battery pack, can travel up to 295 miles on a full charge.The I-Pace, which launched earlier this year as Jaguar Land Rover’s first-ever electric vehicle, can eke up to 240 miles on a 90-kWh battery.

This month, Mercedes-Benz and BMW also debuted their first electric models. The Mercedes-Benz EQ C, the first nameplate in the automaker’s all-electric sub-brand, is a 200-mile range crossover that delivers 402 horsepower using an 80-kWh lithium-ion battery pack.

BMW took a concept version of its electric car on tour this week, inviting reporters in Munich, New York, San Francisco, and Beijing to see it inside of a Lufthansa cargo plane. The Vision iNext, which sets the design language for BMW’s forthcoming electric cars and SUVs, features a living room-themed interior with “smart” upholstery and trim. To operate the infotainment system, for example, passengers use their fingers to trace symbols along the fabric covering the seats and door panels. The automaker also demonstrated technology that can project movies, books, and a virtual keyboard onto the cabin’s surfaces.

A version of the BMW iNext will go on sale in 2021.

The e-tron and its forthcoming competitors will appeal to consumers who are curious about electric vehicles but nervous about reliability and dealer support, said Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Kelley Blue Book. “The Audi e-tron represents another big step toward our electric vehicle future,” Brauer said. “It’s a high-quality, beautifully-designed electric SUV from an established luxury brand. The Audi’s combination of style, performance and cutting edge tech should bring more luxury buyers into the EV fold.”

CarsJaclyn TropFortune