Audi puts R8 e-tron electric supercar on hold

Audi R8 e-tronAudi has stopped development work on the R8 e-tron, an electric version of its R8 supercar. after more than three years of gestation, the all-electric Audi might never see the light of day.

Audi told Car and Driver that all work on the R8 e-tron has been stopped, and that the whole project is under review. The halt was ordered by Wolfgang Dürheimer, Audi’s new chief of research and development. Dürheimer came to Audi after occupying the CEO’s office at Bentley and Porsche.

Dürheimer’s concerns should sound familiar to any EV enthusiasts. It’s all about the batteries, which are still too expensive and too heavy to justify their relative inability to store electrons.

A normal R8 with a 4.2-liter gasoline V8 weighs 3,605 pounds, while the e-tron weighs 3,924. That added weight is not cancelled out by extra power, either: the V8 generates 430 horsepower, but the e-tron’s two electric motors can only muster 376 hp. Granted, the e-tron does produce 605 pound-feet of torque, compared to the 4.2’s 317 lb-ft.

The e-tron can accelerate from zero to 62 mph (0-100 kph) in 4.6 seconds, and has a 124 mph top speed. The regular R8 matches that time, but will keep accelerating until it reaches 187 mph.

Audi says the e-tron’s 49-kWh battery pack provides a range of 134 miles, but in 2010, a prototype e-tron could barely do three laps of the Le Mans circuit. With the market for supercars already limited, Audi may have realized that the market for a supercar that takes hours to refuel would probably be miniscule.

Range aside, the e-tron does hold the Nürburgring lap record for production-ready electric cars. While the Toyota P002 lapped the ‘Ring in 7:22, much faster than the e-tron’s 8:09, it was not designed to be mass produced. Now that the e-tron is on the chopping block, that distinction may not matter.

Audi has not given up on electric cars, though. The company still plans to lease small batches of electric test vehicles to customers in the United States and Europe to acquire real-world usage data. The non-super e-trons will be based on the A3 (U.S.) and A1 (Europe).

Audi’s crisis of faith echoes that of another major car company: Toyota. The Japanese giant pulled the plug (no pun intended) on an electric version of the Scion iQ, deciding to limit U.S. production to 90 examples for fleet buyers instead.

On the other hand, one of Audi’s biggest rivals, Mercedes-Benz, is betting on a battery-powered future. Mercedes is preparing an electric version of its B-Class compact hatchback and, at the complete opposite end of the spectrum, an electric sports car. The R8 e-tron would have been the perfect rival for Mercedes’ SLS AMG Electric Drive, which boasts 740 hp and a $536,000 price tag.

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