Electric mobility only works as a system
Electric mobility is changing not just how we drive cars, but also how we live. In the future, we will mainly charge our vehicles at home – but will also need to top up energy while out and about. For Audi, e-tron means more than a car. Specifically, Audi is flanking the market introduction of its first fully electric model with numerous measures to win customers over to the everyday usability of electric mobility in general, and help them build it into their lives. All part of a worldwide drive. Dr. Stefan Niemand, responsible for electrification in the product line at AUDI AG, talks about the Audi e-tron and the company’s integrated approach to electrification.
Audi’s first fully electric model has just had its product presentation in San Francisco, and advance orders have already reached almost 18,000. What does this model mean for Audi?
Niemand: For us, the Audi e-tron is more than a straightforward new model. The e-tron takes Audi into the age of electric mobility. It is the first premium SUV for convenient everyday use – plus, it has an appealing design and innovative features. It was important to us to present a strong BEV product early on in this rapidly growing segment. And our production planning for the Brussels plant, which is fully booked out with this model as well as the e-tron Sportback that we are bringing onto the market in 2019, shows we believe in the Audi e-tron. It will be a volume model, not a niche product. Adopting an approach to this topic was equally important to us.
What exactly does your integrated strategy for electrification involve?
There is far more to electrification than the car – it only works as part of a system. As well as the vehicle’s price and range, the charging infrastructure and charging time are key factors in helping electric mobility become successfully established. Even if we are a premium manufacturer of cars, we want to play our part in helping build up an integrated ecosystem of electric mobility. Only then will our customers have access to a premium experience right across the board. Our involvement here spans everything from participating in the cross-OEM joint venture IONITY, which is establishing rapid-charging stations along major European traffic arteries, through expanding into the USA with Electrify America, to home-based charging solutions that are being offered in partnership with Amazon Home Services in the USA. At our “Denkwerkstatt” in Berlin, we are also developing and testing our own innovative solutions such as the ParkE mobile charging station. We hope all this will also jump-start acceptance among the wider population and so help make electric mobility a success.
What concerns do you think people have, and how might you put their mind at ease?
One is definitely the dread of lengthy charging times. With the Audi e-tron, we are offering our customers a car that is very efficient and can be charged in quite a variety of ways: in the garage and in transit with alternating current, or in IONITY’s new direct-current charging network – there, the battery can be topped up for the next long drive in less than half an hour. Also, a lot of people think charging is more complicated than refuelling. But they overlook the fact that charging at home or while at work guarantees our customers will then set off with a full “tank”, and it actually only costs ten seconds of their time: five to plug in and five to unplug. So for ordinary day-to-day driving, calling in at the “filling station” actually becomes a thing of the past. If our e-tron customers do need to recharge on longer drives or at their destination, the Audi Charging Service is a very convenient solution. Just one card gives them access to 80 percent of public charging points – more than 70,000 in total, right across Europe. All that is possible in the car, and it can be fully integrated with the smartphone. From 2019, the car will even authenticate itself at the station and enable it. That is what we mean by straightforward, carefree electric mobility. The route planner displaying charging stations along the planned itinerary is hugely beneficial, too.
By 2025, the aim is for one in three new Audis to be electric, and the company plans to sell around 800,000 BEVs and plug-in hybrids. How do you propose to achieve these ambitious targets?
The Audi e-tron kicks off the roll-out of Audi’s comprehensive electric roadmap over the next few years. The aim is to electrify the entire model portfolio by 2025 – with more than 20 electrified models. The next move following on from the e-tron Sportback will be the sporty e-tron GT in 2020, and in the same year we will also be bringing out an electrified model in the compact segment.
Some analysts, and competitors too, have said the biggest challenge for electric mobility is the returns that can be achieved with the products – mainly because of the cost of the batteries. How does Audi plan to make it profitable?
Obviously new technologies involve high initial costs – among other reasons because we want to deliver our customary standard of quality. We will nevertheless achieve our goals with a competitive cost structure. For example we are tapping Group-wide synergies with modular assembly matrixes, platforms and common parts. Equally, innovations specifically in the battery technology and electric driveline, ongoing improvements to the value chain, reducing complexity and localisation decisions play an important role. At VW Group level, we are therefore working jointly on the electric architecture for EVs in the compact and high-end segments. Being able to exploit that synergy potential is a clear USP of the Group structure. Close cooperation, distinct areas of responsibility and scaling are what drives increased profitability – whether in partnership with Volkswagen or Porsche. The Premium Platform Electric (PPE), for example, will be taking effect from as early as 2021. It will help both Audi and Porsche achieve an efficiency gain of up to 30 percent compared with a brand-segregated development approach. Economies of scale are also very relevant – and that is where the VW Group is clearly at an advantage with annual sales of more than 10 million cars.
- The Audi e-tron is the first vehicle in the Audi electric initiative that the premium brand is following to electrify its entire portfolio by 2025. It will involve over 20 electrified models in rapid succession: the Audi e-tron Sportback appearing in 2019 will be the second electric car, followed by the Audi e-tron GT from Audi Sport in 2020. The same year will also see Audi launch an electric model in the premium compact segment.
- Alongside price and the cars’ range, the charging infrastructure and charging time are important success factors for electric mobility. For this reason, Audi is contributing to the integrated ecosystem – for example, by participating in IONITY, a joint venture of automotive manufacturers, through the expansion with Electrify America in the USA or with charging solutions at home.
- Audi aims to sell around 800,000 electric cars and plug-in hybrids in 2025. To achieve that goal it plans to invest around 40 billion euros for the future by 2025, above all in areas such as electric mobility, autonomous driving and digitalisation.
- The company benefits here from increased profitability within the Group as a result of clear areas of responsibility and scalability – whether in partnership with Volkswagen or Porsche.