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Audi’s e-tron electric supercar back on the radar

Short range: The original e-tron concept showed Audi’s intention to make EVs sporty and sexy, but no such car ever made production.

Technology breakthrough means Audi can again ponder an R8-based electric supercar

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Audi logo6 Mar 2014

By MIKE COSTELLO

LIKE Lazarus, Audi’s radical R8 e-tron electric supercar could return from the dead after the company figured out a way to overcome issues with the car’s limited driving range.

A decision on whether to re-start development on an electric R8 -- this time based on the second-generation 2015 model -- in earnest will be made internally “within the next few weeks”. The production version could arrive by 2016-17.

First previewed by the simply-named e-tron concept in 2009, the electrified R8 went on to set a Nurburgring record for EVs in July 2012, but was summarily placed on the company back-burner at the end of that year over concerns with its battery life.

But, says Audi AG’s board member for technical development Ulrich Hackenberg, the project has been given new life thanks to a mystery breakthrough that doubles the driving range to around 450km on a single charge, making it more viable for road use.

An e-tron variant would be an ideal technological leader for the Audi brand, said Dr Hackenberg, adding that the next-generation R8 due in 2015 would be a good “technology vehicle”, or a vehicle in which to premiere new developments before they trickle down.

These new developments extend beyond electrified powertrains, with the R8’s novel use of weight-reducing carbon-fibre -- the spine and transmission tunnel are made in a tool that injects resin at a mass-production rate -- opening the door to cars such as the next R8 making use of the material in similar ways.

“I need such a car as a technology vehicle, a vehicle were I can bring in new technology step-by-step, every year something more,” said Dr Hackenberg.

“In Volkswagen (Dr Hackenberg was formerly on the board of VW before moving to its premium brand Audi) I used the XL1 as such a car, in Audi the R8 could be a good car for such a thing, I’m fighting for that and we will make a decision within the next weeks.”

The aforementioned Volkswagen XL1 was a diesel plug-in hybrid vehicle wrapped in a radical and aerodynamic body made of carbon-fibre and aluminium, that went into super-limited production last year.

Meantime, Dr Hackenburg discussed the next R8 due in 2015, saying the carbon-fibre and aluminium beast would be more closely aligned with Lamborghini’s new Huracan (VW owns Lamborghini and Audi runs it) than the current R8 is with the outgoing Gallardo.

Both cars will be based on the Group’s new MSS mid-engined sports architecture, as will their roadster derivations. They will share double-clutch gearboxes, but will have different engine, steering and suspension tunes.

The shape and aerodynamics will be wholly different, as will the dimensions: the Huracan will sit on a reduced wheelbase, making it theoretically more nimble. Dr Hackenberg said the R8 would be tuned to give more comfort than before, but don’t fear this will make it soft.

“More comfort for me also means more speed, because if a car is too ‘hoppy’ on bumpy roads you don’t have the concentration on steering and so on,” he said.

Rumour has it that Dr Hackenberg took the then in-development 2015 R8 back to the drawing board when we took the reins at Audi in June last year, after some dissatisfaction with elements of the car’s development.

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All future models

R8 pricing

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GoAutoNews is Australia’s number one automotive industry journal covering the latest news, future and new model releases, market trends, industry personnel movements, and international events.