Is Audi Launching an Electric Car or Torpedoing Them?

By Bill Moore

Posted: 06 Sep 2009

According to Audi President Johan de Nysschen plug-in cars like the Chevy Volt are for "idiots." In his view, that's the only people who are going to be dumb enough to pay a $15,000 premium for a car that competes with Toyota's Corolla.

So why did Audio produce the video below, which would appear to extoll the both the power and acceleration of electric vehicles, in this case an electric lawn mower.

Now I happen to have two electric mowers, one on loan from the Illinois Institute of Technology and equipped with lithium ion batteries and trust me when say, I have to push both of them. But the point of the video isn't to sell mowers, but to offer an exaggerated perspective, one that is generally being interpreted as setting the stage for Audi's own electric car, to debut within the next few days at the Frankfurt Auto Show.

An alternative explanation, though less likely, is that Audi is simply making fun of hype surrounding electric cars like the Leaf and the Tesla.

What I find strange is de Nysschem's advocacy for diesel engines vs coal-powered electric cars. Actually, the percentage of coal powering the U.S. electric grid recently dropped below 50% as more utilities are shifting to more efficient, cleaner combined cycle gas turbines and more wind and solar power comes on line.

Even more curious is the comment about the $15,000 premium on the Volt. At this point, it is anyone's guess what the Volt will sell for and GM's recent announcement that its battery pack will cost $500 per kilowatt hour, or $8,000, suggests that the car could actually come in under $40,000, the current "guesstimate" being offered by outsiders.

If Audi is building an electric car, then it too will have to deal with the added cost of the battery pack and given its size, it will likely end up buying them from outside suppliers (Tesla, EnerDel, BYD, GM?). Or maybe their strategy is to follow BMW's lead and develop a diesel hybrid with some limited electric driving range. The possibilities are many, as are the smoke screens all this speculation generates, including one that the electric car will be based on the R8. My favorite would be the 2006 Audi Shooting Brake concept car pictured above, which would make a far interesting and practical competitor to the Nissan LEAF. What the world doesn't need is another electric sports car.

If Audi is about to introduce its own competitor to the Tesla Roadster or Chevy Volt, all the chatter certainly gets people talking about electric cars and that's a good thing.

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