Audi’s “e-tron” moniker comes from its electric sports car concepts, the e-tron and e-tron Spyder. However, the first production electric Audi is a converted A3 hatchback. An electric motor producing 114 hp and lb-ft of torque sits where the petrol engine used to, and a 26 kWh lithium-ion battery provides the juice, enough, Audi says, for a 90 mile range. It will also propel the A3 e-tron from 0-100 kph (0-62 mph) in 11.2 seconds and on to a top speed of 90 mph. That seems fairly reasonable for a small hatchback, it’s also pretty close to the Nissan Leaf’s numbers (0-60 mph in 10.0 seconds, top speed of 92 mph). Audi’s quoted range may be a little optimistic; the Leaf is only good for 70-80 miles in normal conditions, and it is a purpose-built car with better aerodynamics.
As part of the trial program, A3 e-trons will only be available in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, and Washington, D.C. The program will last one year and will essentially make customers into test drivers. Audi will gather valuable real-world data as each car is driven, and that will be used to design a full-blown production model. “The A3 e-tron pilot program serves as an important innovation platform for Audi to develop greater insight into electric vehicles and how American driving conditions affect use of the progressive technology in everyday life,” said Audi sustainability strategy lead Jeff Curry. Audi is running a similar program in Germany with the smaller A1 hatchback.
Audi is not the first company to do a test-launch before diving into electric car production. BMW ran a similar program for its ActiveE (based on the 1 Series) and Mini E. Honda recently delivered some Fit EVs to Google and Stanford University; the Japanese company also launched its FCX series of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles through a limited pilot program.
According to Audi, the A3 e-tron is the first step toward a range of electric vehicles. “As part of the long-range Audi corporate goal of moving toward CO2-neutral mobility, there will be e-tron plug-in vehicle products exhibiting all of the performance and design attributes Audi drivers have come to expect,” said Johan de Nysschen, President of Audi of America. Are four-ringed electric cars part of America’s automotive future? Buyers who pay the not-yet-disclosed entry fee for an A3 e-tron will be the first to find out. Look for these silent Audis on city streets in the coming months.