Audi pushes ahead on plug-ins, 10-speeds, fuel cells, and more

  • 02-Jul-2013 04:50 EDT
Audi06-13Wolfgang Duerheimer.jpg

Prior to his Audi R&D assignment, Wolfgang Dürheimer held a similar post at Porsche. He also has been CEO of Bentley and President and CEO of Bugatti, and he is VW Group Representative for Motorsport Strategy.

Audi has a confident, hands-on approach to demonstrating and discussing its advanced technology.

So as an entrée to a day of technology briefings, it invited this AEI editor to take the pure-electric R8 e-tron supercar (0-100 kph in 4.2 s) around a twisty test circuit on the former Tempelhof airfield in Berlin. This concentrated the mind for several reasons, not least of which was knowing the prototype car was worth around a million euros.

The availability of 820 N·m and 280 kW (604 lb·ft and 375 hp, respectively) in a two-seat coupe clearly demonstrated that electric power can be in keeping with the engineering and marketing requirements for performance, quality, “emotion,” and driver enjoyment that comprise an Audi maxim.

However, contrary to expectations, the R8 e-tron will not enter series production. Only 10 have been built and will be used internally by the company. Speaking at his last major international media event shortly before moving to another, unspecified role in the Volkswagen Group, Wolfgang Dürheimer, Audi Board member for Technical Development (R&D), said: “The R8 e-tron showcases what is possible with electric motors and batteries but at present with the energy density that can be delivered and because of the costs, we do not see an economically interesting business case.”

Around 7% of Audi’s annual turnover is spent on R&D (equal to some 3.4B euros in 2012), a proportion that has remained about the same for at least five years.

Dürheimer, said he was sure that a reduction in R&D costs could be achieved. He planned to apply techniques and technologies he introduced at Porsche to Audi.

"There are programs running; one is further penetration of virtual methodology in developing cars," he said. "We can do three-dimensional prototyping and three-dimensional visualization of a car that is not yet built, but looks like you can touch it and open doors an even ‘sit’ inside. For aerodynamic and crash test work we try to avoid hardware as much as possible until it has a positive result in test analyses."

Physical prototypes will continue to be necessary for on-road and track testing "to find out whether we are delivering what the customer has to have," Dürheimer explained.

Audi's e-tron production play

Regarding vehicle electrification, the company's current focus is plug-in hybrids (PIH), and battery-electric cars, the latter aimed at urban use, he noted.

Next year will also see the A3 e-tron PIH Sportback on the market, with a 1.4-L TSI gasoline engine. Although the use of a TDI (diesel) would have made the fuel consumption and CO2 emissions figures even better—and diesel-hybrids are in the pipeline from Audi—the fact that China is wary of diesel power is bound to have some effect on the pace of diesel-hybrid development.

However, the experience and profile gained by Audi’s e-tron diesel-hybrid race cars (with an overall win at the 2013 Le Mans 24-hour race) is an important facet both in terms of technology and expertise gained, but also in public acceptance of the technology.

The A3 Sportback e-tron will be Audi’s benchmark in the field of PIH. “After that we will launch additional models with this technology in rapid succession. Each car will be individually configured but will be a genuine, emotive, sporty Audi,” said Dürheimer.

The route to a PIH decision with long-term applications for series production cars is complex and expensive. In keeping with many OEMs, Audi has had to explore several avenues of potential powertrain solutions which, Dürheimer noted, was necessary "to find the best solution for a premium manufacturer such as Audi.”

Maximum vehicle usability by the end-user was an absolute, he stressed. “Our customers do not want to lose out in any specific area of everyday transportation, and they want to carry four-plus-one passengers when necessary.” And the issue of being marooned with a low battery charge level is wholly unacceptable.

Pure electric mode on the A3 e-tron is expected to provide 50 km (31 miles) of usable range, and the IC engine will recharge the battery over a distance of 200-300 km (124-186 miles). As for the price, Dürheimer said, "electromobility must be affordable to make the breakthrough into the market."

Fuel cells and 10-speed gearboxes

PIH he regarded as “much more” than an intermediate bridging tool, and he said that he saw PIH technology generally as being part of the auto scene for “a fairly long time, because it is a good solution."

Even so, fuel cell development continues, and a fuel cell powered A7 demonstrator is about to be revealed.

Natural gas is another solution being actively pursued by VW R&D. Dürheimer sees it as a further technology that would help President Obama achieve his aim of seeing the U.S. independent of energy imports. A big plus for its application to transportation is that globally there is an established infrastructure into cities, although some modifications in terms of systems pressures would be needed.

Audi has a development program in place in northern Germany for the production of synthetic, emissions-free gas with 20 g/km well-to-wheel potential that Dürheimer described as being "very close to natural gas."

Engine and fuel developments are being complemented by transmission advances, including a 10-speed gearbox. AEI has learned this new unit, called the DQ510, is a DCT designed for transverse applications. It was evolved from a 9-speed DCT that was in development and will probably be mated with the new 2.0-L EA388 diesel engine.

Harnessing Google power

Powertrains will also be allied to intelligent navigation systems: “We are studying a Google Earth navigation structure to provide data for when a car should use electric or IC modes; discharge a battery on the way up a mountain, recharge it on the way down!”

Dürheimer is doubtless disappointed that the R8 e-tron is not going to make it into showrooms: “But I am not just a motor engineer; I also studied business administration and I learned that you have to try to create profit for your company," he said. "For this reason I think our shareholders would be happy if we did not produce too many R8 e-trons.”

Dürheimer’s position at Audi will be taken over on July 1 by Ulrich Hackenberg, who becomes responsible for technical development of all the VW Group’s brands.

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