Audi design boss Marc Lichte prefers to clear his head on the deck of a boat in the Baltic Sea, but when he’s in the studio, he must imagine himself behind the wheel of an electric car. Unveiled at the LA Auto Show last week, one such car is the German luxury brand’s latest battery-powered vehicle: the e-Tron GT.
Audi showed a concept for the GT alongside its first electric vehicle, the forthcoming mid-sized e-Tron SUV at the show, and together the models spearhead Audi’s initiative to offer a dozen fully electric models by 2025. But creating the GT (slated to go on sale as a 2021 model) entailed more than translating the SUV’s design into fastback form. “It’s a different kind of customer,” Lichte tells us, describing the target buyer as sporty and progressive.
For the 590-horsepower GT (revealed at a downtown party hosted by Robert Downey Jr on the eve of the auto show), Lichte looked to the brand’s enthusiast-oriented RS badge and flagship R8 sports car for inspiration. Showcasing the sporty silhouette of Audi’s A7 coupe-like sedan, the electric car must fulfill several obligations: retain Audi’s language, unify the future family of models, and look subtle enough not to alienate customers. Lichte says that radical shifts in design, at least for first generation models, don’t sell on the dealership floor.
Marked by a long wheelbase and low center of gravity, the concept adapts the elements of a Gran Turismo to the design constraints of an EV. Electric vehicles have short overhangs and larger wheels to support the weight of the battery, as well as a flat floor to accommodate the battery’s shape. “This makes a difference in proportion,” Lichte says.
Developed in collaboration with its Porsche sister brand, the e-Tron GT shares its platform with Porsche’s first EV, the 600-horsepower Taycan. The four-passenger GT will boast the dynamism expected of a Gran Turismo, traveling from 0 to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds and running Audi’s quattro permanent all-wheel drive system with torque vectoring. Top speed will be limited to 149 mph to maximize range.
The car (which will reach 248 miles on a fully charged battery) features a gently sloping roofline, 22-inch wheels and tapered a cabin—all of which will likely remain as the car goes into production.
And, even though battery-powered cars have no real need for a grille, Lichte insists that Audi’s EV lineup will retain the brand’s signature singleframe, which finally “gave the brand a face” in 2004, when it debuted. For the e-Tron lineup, the horizontal honeycomb design will help cover the car’s sensors. “Honestly, we will not give up the singleframe,” he says. “I think it would be a big mistake for us to destroy our face.”