The great thing about talking to senior executives at auto companies is that they know considerably more than their PR minders do. And sometimes, if you get the right exec on the right day, they’re prepared to talk about things the spin doctors would advise against revealing.
We suspect that Peter Mertens, new head of development at Audi, is going to prove to be one of those executives whom journalists like to seek out. The refreshingly candid German (who was heading up R&D at Volvo last year) isn’t going to casually reveal Audi’s five-year plan. But he is happy to drop some fascinating clues about where the brand is heading, especially when it comes to electric mobility.
The one thing seemingly missing from the plans for a family of pure electric e-tron models is a range-topping halo model. That omission is made more obvious by the fact that, in the R8 e-tron (pictured above), Audi previously produced an electron-driven sports car, but only briefly. The good news is that it’s a gap Mertens seems to be both aware of and keen to fill.
“You can very well imagine that at some point we will have an electric supercar,” he told journalists at the 2017 Formula E race in Berlin. “The question is, ‘Would I like to make it happen sooner?’ and the answer is, ‘Yes, of course.’ It is part of our plan. We’re not going to talk about that today, but I can tell you that for a brand like Audi, a supercar is always interesting, and it’s a segment in which we have been playing, we have been a very serious player.”
The previous R8 e-tron stands as inspiration here, but also as a cautionary tale. The project was canceled by Wolfgang Durheimer during his brief period as head of R&D for Audi, before being resurrected by Ulrich Hackenberg, one of the senior executives to have left the company in the wake of the Dieselgate scandal.
The production e-tron was built in tiny numbers and sold for only 19 months while technical limitations meant that—uniquely among Audi’s recent performance road cars—it was rear-wheel drive only.
The move to create distinct e-tron models rather than simply electric versions of existing cars means we can safely anticipate any future EV supercar won’t just be an R8 with a different propulsion system. It also likely will feature a high-performance 800-volt charging system in place of the 400-volt systems of lesser e-Audis, like the fast-charging system that Porsche is developing for the production version of the Mission-E concept.
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“800-volt puts a significant extra cost on the bill. We need to evaluate whether customers will be prepared to pay that,” Mertens admitted. “In segments like super sports cars, it will be yes, no doubt about it.”
Mertens also said that Audi is likely to make hotter S and even RS versions of e-tron models, but he also said it seems likely that hybrid assistance will feature on the next generation of its internal-combustion performance cars.
“It could definitely be a part,” Mertens said. “We believe in that technology, specifically in regard to performance. Is plug-in technology a bridge? Yes, it is, but it’s also a fantastic technology for really delivering performance.”
Or, summarized: Audis are set to become more green but no less mean.