Exclusive: A look at Audi's venture into electric vehicles

Vorsprung durch Technik. Translating into English as advancement through technology, it is phrase that appears in the script of blockbuster film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and can be heard in the lyrics of bestselling UK hits Parklife (by Blur) and Zooropa (by U2).

The Germanic expression has firmly become ingrained in British dialect. Yet beyond Britain, the same can be said for countless other countries spanning all seven continents.

Why? Well, the answer is simple. It is the global slogan of leading luxury car manufacturer Audi – a company that truly meets the meaning of this motto.

“Audi is a special brand; unique you might say. Not only for its values, but also for always being ahead when it comes to technology and for its sporty DNA,” explains Ignacio Gonzalez, Audi Spain’s Communications Director.

“It has something that catches your soul. I’ve found that those four rings sooner than later become a part of you.”

An employee of 21 years, Gonzalez is no stranger to the automaker’s enticing, progressive culture and commitment to staying firmly ahead of the curve. From the victory of a diesel engine in Le Mans with the R10 TDI in 2006 to the A7 Sportback’s self-driven trip from Silicon Valley to Las Vegas in 2017, he has witnessed first-hand Audi’s ability to repeatedly break new ground.

“Looking back to the year 1998, our range only had four models: A3, A4, A6 and A8. Even TT was still yet to come,” he continues.

“Since then I have been lucky enough to be part of a very special era that is characterised by an enormous growth of the Audi brand in all senses. We have experienced many breathtaking moments and unforgettable challenges, and these past two decades have been truly enthralling.

“Today, things are changing by the week as the automotive industry experiences intensive transformation and disruption, be it the connected car, autonomous driving or, of course, electrification.”

Introducing e-tron

These three emerging fields have largely been the focus of innovation for the automaker in recent years, the fruits of these labours most recently embodied by the company’s 100 percent electric e-tron range.

Comprising the quattro and the recently unveiled Sportback, both models have captured substantial attention in the market, owed to a 446 kilometre range and high speed recharging alongside other novel features including the company’s flagship Matrix LED lighting and highly advanced camera technologies which have replaced exterior mirrors.

“Electric mobility is here to stay, there’s no doubt about it,” Gonzalez declares as the conversation moves into the sphere of marketing.

Much like the e-tron range itself, the promotional programmes accompanying the series’ launch have likewise been unconventional, emulating the futuristic and the cutting-edge. Take e-tron room: “The Future Paradox”, for example.

“This is a sequel to the first Audi escape room experience that we launched two years ago,” the Communications Director explains. “The focus there was more on the game itself, trying to introduce our clients and potential clients to Audi’s ambitions in electric mobility.

“Two years on, however, and things have already changed significantly. We now have a 100 percent electric car in the market. And for that reason, we’re back with e-tron room: “The Future Paradox” – a technological event and immersive experience that uses virtual reality to show clients and Audi fans that we’re embracing e-mobility.

“I have been lucky enough to try it myself. And while I do not want to give away any spoilers, I can say that the experience submerges you into a world you simply do not expect. You have to work together to progress, solving the challenges in this original story and finally reaching an unexpected and brilliant end.

“It is both original and exciting and our motto feels more alive than ever. For all those who have not immersed themselves in such an experience yet, I would totally recommend it.”

Leading the charge

Ultimately, the ambition of The Future Paradox by Gonzalez’s own admission is to affirm that Audi’s electric mobility plans are real and tangible. And in the eyes of the Director, these recent steps are just the first in what is set to become an exciting new era for automotive manufacturing.

Having already launched the e-tron 55 and 50 quattro, the Sportback’s imminent market arrival in the spring will be the next landmark. Yet beyond this, there is much more in the pipeline.

The latter stages of 2020 will see the arrival of the e-tron GT – the first electric model sportscar fully developed by Audi Sport – while the launch of Q4 e-tron, a model similar to the Audi Q3 in appearance and A6 for its interior roominess, is earmarked for H1 2021.

“As a manufacturer, we are also determined to improve the recharging network, capital for our clients benefit,” Gonzalez adds. “That is the reason why we co-founded Ionity, which is developing fast charging stations all across Europe.

“Additionally, in China we have launched the Q2 L e-tron, a fully electric version of our compact SUV.”

Each new development will be key in Audi meeting its wider targets of launching 30 electric vehicles models by 2025, with the expectation that these will account for 40 percent of unit sales in this same year.

And while capitalising on the emerging electrification market is a fundamental reason behind this drastic shift, so too is the role that the enterprise recognises it has to play in facilitating the shift to a greener planet, this forming the basis of Gonzalez’s conclusion.

“At Audi, we know that we have to help protect the climate,” he affirms.

“Our company was the first to commit to the Paris climate targets, and by 2025 we hope to have reduced the CO2 footprint of our vehicle fleet by 30 percent over the total lifecycle when compared with 2015. Meanwhile, our Brussels plant, where we produce the e-tron range, is already the world’s first CO2-neutral volume production facility in the premium segment.

“We understand our responsibility for the planet, for future generations, and for our 90,000 employees and their families, and it is our goal to become a leading provider of sustainable mobility sooner rather than later.”