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Audi sets out its zero-emission future

Date: 17 October 2018

The Audi E-Tron SUV is the brand's first battery electric vehicle, and is headed to a showroom near you with a £70,000 price tag. Kyle Fortune investigates.

The unveiling couldn't have been more spectacular; Audi's E-Tron was unveiled on a San Francisco pier in front of a 1,600 throng of bemused press, dealers and hangers-on, with the car manufacturer going big on the reveal of its newest model.

The E-Tron isn't confusing, even if the thumping music and flashing lights of the launch were; it's Audi's newest vehicle, and, significantly, it's a battery electric vehicle (BEV). 

Audi is entering the plug-in fully electric market, with the E-Tron able to cover a WLTP-certified 248-mile range, charge its batteries quickly via 150kW fast chargers - where available - and use a single card at any charger to plug in.

Revolutionary? Audi seems to think so, but it'll be joining a number of new contenders in the BEV marketplace when it arrives in 2019. 

With a list price of £70,805, it won't be every business customer who'll be buying, but Audi still sees the E-Tron as a huge opportunity for its fleet business.  

Tom Brennan, Audi's head of fleet, explained, "It's got Audi DNA, and I think there will be many people who will potentially move to this car. I speak to a lot of people who are ready to take the step. Of course there are barriers to that, such as the infrastructure, but by having the 200-plus mile range, you speak to most experts and those considering it and]it takes the anxiety away."

That range is arguably the tipping point for buyers, and Brennan admits it'll also play an important part in the residual value forecasts, which are expected to be good.

What has yet to be confirmed is Audi's overall offering to business users. Brennan said, "The thing that we haven't quite tied down yet, and is a big thing for Audi, other than the car, is the service offering that goes with that car - the package opportunity to a fleet customer.

"We are partnering with Ionity [a joint venture with a mission to build a pan-European charging network to facilitate long-distance travel], that's one aspect, but there are so many more."

That might include Pod Point-like supply for SME customers, or individual solutions for larger corporate customers.

One thing Audi is playing on, particularly in regard to competition like Tesla, is its huge dealer network and the support that surrounds that.

Ed Jones, Audi's national contract hire and leasing manager, said, "If you look at the premium EV space, Tesla's largely operating out of shopping centres, their opportunity to market isn't the same ability that we can manage.

"Audi has relationships with a huge number of corporate customers as well as a fantastic dealer network, and the contract hire proposition as well. There's a real differentiator there; the brand alone has such credibility to drive that adoption." 

Brennan admits that leasing companies have asked whether there'll be an offering at a lower price point, but with that market already relatively busy, Audi won't be entering it for a while.

"I can't see it being in the next few years," said Brennan. "We will be bringing E-Tron Sportback first and there are smaller SUVs planned after that, but to get to the volume end, I don't think we'll be there for some time." Audi has revealed plans for 12 different Q models by 2025, seven being fully electric, with the remainder using hybrid and petrol powertrains. 

That's not necessarily a bad thing, though, with Jones saying, "If you look at the BIK impact and you fast forward to 2021, it's dramatic that the difference, the actual on-the-road cost of a monthly rental, is nullified to a point, given what you consider to be a fairly average car; it really does make the E-Tron a game-changer."

Brennan agrees, waiting for some clarity from the government for its plans in 2021, but said, "When we think about our fleet customer base and the profile of our customers, there are a lot of individuals at the top end who absolutely have a desire for these cars; they understand it, the cost per mile, and they really have clarity on what it's going to give them."