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Interview: Vision of future mobility

As Head of Sustainable Product Development, Reiner Mangold has to take a stand – on electric mobility and Audi e-fuels, on lightweight construction and traction batteries. He explains the Audi Group’s strategic approach for the mobility of the future.

What does the mobility of the future look like, and what is Audi doing to prepare for this?
One thing is certain: the mobility of the future will be diverse. One of our major challenges as a carmaker is to offer each of our customers around the world a concept that is just right for them. At the same time, we want to and will present new technological possibilities that open up whole new dimensions when it comes to climate protection and resource conservation. We at Audi aspire to not simply follow market trends, but rather to actively shape the future with new technologies and intelligent concepts.

How do you plan on reaching these new dimensions with respect to sustainability?
We don’t just look at the emissions from a vehicle, but rather analyse the entire product life cycle including the vehicle’s upstream energy chain. A comprehensive environmental footprint assessment enables us to analyse and influence early on which measures together really have a positive effect over the entire life cycle of a vehicle. That is why we are working in various projects on ways of making climate-friendly energy sources available to our customers. For the usage phase of a car continues to harbour the greatest potential for making truly decisive strides toward climate neutrality. Our Audi e-fuels clearly demonstrate that in addition to electric driving with green electricity, there are also less climate-damaging concepts for mobility over longer distances.

But it is still the driver who chooses a fuel or a specific electricity contract. Does that mean that the ball is in the driver’s court?
On the one hand, it really is. You can’t do anything without the customer. A car can be as efficient and environmentally friendly as can be, but if nobody buys it because it is too expensive or isn’t practical enough, there is zero environmental effect. The same is true of renewable fuels or green electricity. It is ultimately down to the customer. But we as carmakers together with the energy utilities first have a responsibility to develop and offer suitably attractive options.

Does Audi already offer such options?
We do with respect to efficiency in the form of very fuel-efficient vehicles and also the fuel-saver courses offered by our Audi driving experience. But we also want to set new standards in mobility where CO2 is reduced overall. We will soon have something very impressive to offer here. In combination with the CNG-powered Audi A3 g-tron, which is scheduled to launch in late 2013, the customer will also be able to order our Audi e-gas, a renewable natural gas. This will make it fundamentally possible to enjoy CO2-neutral driving in the spring thanks to surplus wind energy from the previous autumn. The car itself requires relatively little energy to produce and also offers very good recyclability.

You mentioned a holistic life cycle assessment. How do you use the lessons learned from these analyses in your products?
Take the new Audi A3, for example: although it is bigger, safer and more spacious than its predecessor, it is up to 90 kilograms lighter. And more fuel-efficient, of course.
Technical, economic but also ecological considerations play a role in the choice of materials. In the concept phase, we asked the question: does the use of high-strength steels or aluminium really provide a benefit to the environment in the life cycle assessment of the A3? After all, both metals initially require the use of more energy than normal steel sheet. For the A3 1.4 TFSI with a combustion engine, the answer is positive. It has improved by nine percent compared with its predecessor with respect to its greenhouse gas balance over the entire life cycle. The situation is much more difficult when it comes to the ecological compensation for energy-intensive lightweight materials in electric vehicles. They are more efficient, recover a large proportion of their braking energy and generally are not driven as far over their lifetimes as cars with a combustion engine, which are better suited for driving long distances.

What do life cycle assessments for electric drives look like in general?
For the usage phase, the electric car is unbeatable when it comes to local emissions. Its environmental footprint with respect to CO2 is also outstanding if it can be proven that the car uses electricity generated with renewable energy. But if electric driving results in power plants having to burn more fossil fuels, the greenhouse gas balance is negative compared with vehicles with combustion engines. And with respect to production, a battery-electric vehicle today comes with significantly more ecological baggage than a vehicle with a combustion engine. This is due primarily to the raw materials for the traction battery and the electric drive. We are therefore working to minimise the amount of material used and are also working on recycling concepts for the aforementioned components. Our vision – not just for electric drives – is greenhouse gas-neutral mobility in a holistic, cradle-to-cradle perspective. In other words, the use of renewable energy sources and recycling of the materials used.