Audi Shows Tesla Isn’t the Only Automaker That Can Build An Electric Vehicle

Audi’s first-ever electric vehicle, the $75,000 e-Tron, is already contributing nearly 5% of the automaker’s sales mix.

The brand recorded 856 e-Tron sales in the U.S. in May, the car’s first month in dealerships. By comparison, the E-Tron’s closest competitors, the Tesla Model X and Jaguar I-Pace sold 1,000 and 228 units, respectively.

The 400-horsepower E-Tron, which runs on a 95 kilowatt-hour battery and a pair of electric motors, comes with all-wheel drive, an off-road mode, and a 4,000-pound towing capacity—performance chops consistent with the brand’s gas-powered SUVs. Inside, the E-Tron boasts a leather-clad cabin and walnut wood trim as luxurious as any model in Audi’s lineup.

“For several years now, the industry has been working overtime to bring credible Tesla fighters to market, and the Audi E-Tron is among the first to meet Tesla head-to-head with a luxurious long range product,” said Ed Kim, vice president of industry analysis at marketing research and consulting firm AutoPacific. “The E-Tron has the usual levels of Audi fit and finish, something all Tesla products are lacking in, and it looks nice.”

But the E-Tron, an important step for Audi in its quest to electrify its entire lineup, “definitely comes off as a first effort with some very real shortcomings relative to Tesla’s models,” Kim added.

The main shortcoming is its 204-mile range. That’s less than the Model X, Jaguar I-Pace, and expected Mercedes-Benz EQ C and M-Byte from Chinese automaker Byton.

Audi executives say the car’s key advantage is that it can handle a fast-charging rate of 150 kWh, the same as Tesla’s updated Supercharger network. The E-Tron can add 54 miles of range for every 10 minutes of charge. That’s 163 miles - about 80% of its battery range - in 30 minutes.

But competition in the EV space moves fast. Tesla is about to launch its Supercharger V3 network, which can charge the Model 3 sedan at speeds up to 250 kW, and the Model S and Model X at up to 200 kW. Audi has said that its next EV, the E-Tron GT sports car, will charge at speeds up to 350 kW.

On a recent media drive from Napa Valley to Lake Tahoe, which required a 7,427-foot ascent, the fleet of nine E-Trons averaged 189 miles of total estimated range, 15 miles less than its EPA-estimated rangeThe SUVs recharged at an Electrify America quick-charging station in Sacramento midway through the 250-mile trip.

The partnership with Reston, Va.-based Electrify America will help Audi establish a charging network of 300 highway locations and 650 metro locations by the end of the year.

Automakers worldwide are investing billions of dollars in electrifying their lineups. Volkswagen Group, the world’s second-biggest automaker and Audi’s parent company, is investing $48 billion in battery supplies to equip 16 factories that will produce 27 electric models within the next five years.

Audi expects its 12 new electric models to comprise 30% of its own global sales by 2025.

Sales of electric vehicles are expected to rise significantly during that period, to 7.6% of the U.S. new car market in 2026, up from 1.2% last year, according to IHS Markit.

More than 40 brands will offer at least one fully electric model by 2023, about three times as many last year, according to IHS forecasts. The firm projects more than 130 electrified models for the U.S. market in 2026, compared with 18 now. Many of these will be utility vehicles like the E-Tron.

“Manufacturers are still coming up with new sizes of vehicles to fit in what is considered the crossover and SUV segment, and the consumer popularity may lead to some upside for battery-electric variants,” said Devin Lindsay, an analyst with IHS Markit.

“Combine the popularity of the models with tightening carbon dioxide targets in the major global markets, and the need to electrify becomes is even greater.”