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Audi plugs into hybrids

Way of the future: The next-generation Audi A3 - previewed at the Shanghai show in April this year - will probably be available in plug-in hybrid guise in the near future.

Plug-in hybrids first up for Audi as German car-maker strives to meet CO2 laws

Audi logo22 Nov 2011

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS in TOKYO

AUDI says that the time for plug-in hybrid vehicles is now, as it works towards the mandated fleet-average CO2 carbon dioxide emissions target of 130 grams per kilometre by 2015 and the far tougher 95g/km law by 2020.

Speaking at the Asia-Pacific media drive of the A1 range extender and A3 Sportback EV e-tron concept cars in Japan last week, Audi’s product strategy manager for e-tron, Heiko Seegatz, revealed that we should expect to see a production plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) from Ingolstadt before a range extender or pure battery electric vehicle (BEV).

“Of course, we could have made even the A1 as a BEV … but studies show that customers want a range of 300km to 400km (per charge), and most of the EVs have a range of around 150km … so it does not fit to the customer’s needs,” he said.

“So we thought about other solutions – and one of these is the range extender solution.

“(But) I think the plug-in hybrid will be the next (for production).”

While Mr Seegatz would not nominate the specific model, it is thought that the next-generation A3 small car – already previewed in near-production guise at the Geneva and Shanghai motor shows in March and April respectively – will offer a PHEV variation under the e-tron nomenclature before too long.

7 center imageFrom top: A1 e-tron concept, A2 concept, A3 e-tron concept, A6 hybrid, A8 hybrid, R8 e-tron concept.

Unlike its more sophisticated A1 and (current-generation bodied) A3 Sportback e-tron concept cousins, the A3 PHEV e-tron will have a combustion engine.

Expected to mirror the Shanghai concept, it will probably employ a variation of the 1.4-litre TFSI twin-charger direct-injection four-cylinder petrol engine that – at the Chinese show at least – had its 155kW power output augmented by a 20kW electric motor, delivering drive to the front wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox.

While it is possible for short-distance commuters to operate the A3 PHEV purely in EV mode if their return journey is under 54km, with the help of a 12kWh lithium-ion battery pack behind the rear seats, the electric motor is basically designed to help lower emissions and boost performance.

As PHEV implies, charging is performed either in motion or via a household power socket.

Moving beyond PHEVs in the future, Mr Seegatz would not confirm if the rotary engine chosen for the A1 range extender e-tron concept would make it to production.

One of the big surprises at the Geneva motor show in 2010, the rotary was chosen for its lightness (65kg all up) and compactness – important facets in a four-seater city car coming in at under four metres in length.

“Firstly (we chose rotary) because it is really small,” he said. “Our target was to offer a solution for a truly useable city car,” he said.

“We could have used a V8 but there would not have been a boot anymore, so we looked for the smallest solution. So the focus was more for packaging than just consumption.”

Asked if Audi has met resistance to the rotary idea due to the engine’s early reliability, consumption and emissions issues, Mr Seegatz explained that its operation in the A1 e-tron as a range extender is fundamentally different to that employed in other automobile applications.

“There are just two (rev) points that the rotary is working – at 5000rpm and at about 2000rpm or thereabouts,” he said. “The rotary engine can easily handle this – it does not have to run so lean and having this sort of fixed target means that we have a solution (to typical rotary engine problems).

“Running at 5000rpm means you can produce 15kW of power (to help charge the battery) but running that down below 3000rpm means that the energy output is lower it makes sense to run it at the lower RPM because it is not so noisy and the consumption is lower, but it has limited power output for the battery.”

Audi is trialling 20 prototypes at Munich universities and utilities to collect data on driving habits, including to what degree the range extender vehicle will influence the use of other means of transportation.

“A decision has not been made yet,” Mr Seegatz said, adding that Audi will await the results from Munich in the middle of next year before a decision is made public.

He cites infrastructure issues as one of the key hurdles that need to be negotiated before it starts EV production.

“In Germany, we have a national platform for mobility … with other car-makers such as Volkswagen and Porsche … and utilities and industry like Siemens, and universities (as well) … trying to find solutions for infrastructure.

“We are also working with the US guys to try to find a common solution … a “common plug” (to be adopted globally).”

Part of Germany’s common solution, according to Mr Seegatz, is not to go down the battery-swapping path that Renault has committed to in conjunction with EV infrastructure specialists Better Place for models out soon such as the Fluence ZE and Zoe EV light car.

“And as far as I know, the Better Place solution is not a solution for the German car-makers,” he said.

“In our opinion the principle idea is perfect, but we don’t see any possibility for bringing it into all of our cars.

“It would mean an A1 would have to have the same battery as an R8, or even like a BMW … but everybody has a different battery.

“It’s like with the mobile phone … everybody has different batteries and different ideas as to what they want to do with their batteries. And then some batteries are lithium-ion and some nickel metal hydride … “At this stage everybody is at the beginning, and trying to find their own solution … therefore it is not possible for a solution like Better Place because there might be hundreds of different types of batteries … and that is the problem with this idea.”

Ultimately, meeting the 95g/km fleet-average target is the goal, especially as a €95 (A$130) fine applies for each g/km exceeded per vehicle. That could get very expensive indeed.

Like every other car-maker, Audi is investigating a range of emissions-slashing solutions.

These range from today’s Micro-Hybrid idle stop) and Mild Hybrid tech (the A6 and A8 Hybrid are due from 2013 in Australia), to the BEVs (2015 onwards, including but also beyond the flagged A1, A2, A3, and R8 e-tron models), to the long-awaited hydrogen-powered fuel-cell car (FCEV) that is thought to be the zero emission holy grail into the 2020s.

“We believe that FCEV will be a good solution but not before the next five to six years,” Mr Seegatz said.

“The main problem is the missing infrastructure.”

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