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In the beginning there was Tesla. Then came Jaguar with the I-Pace. Now Audi has joined the all-electric car party with the e-tron, recently revealed to hundreds of dealers and media in the heart of America’s high-tech region, San Francisco.

Audi is by no means the last of the big names to be launching electric cars. Entries from Mercedes — the EQC — and Porsche — the Taycan — are in the wings. BMW is readying an EV, as is Volkswagen and many other companies.

But Audi is by far the largest and most experienced automaker to step into the fray. As such, the e-tron, which will be in Audi’s U.S. showrooms by next spring, promises to be a standard-setter. 

While Jaguar’s I-Pace is impressive in its own right, especially for its performance attributes, the vehicle’s design is an unusual combination of a compact car and SUV. By contrast, the Audi e-tron is a relatively straightforward-looking five-passenger crossover, similar in appearance but a little larger and more aerodynamic than the current Q5.

It’s hardly surprising that Audi chose a mid-sized crossover for its first EV (Mercedes is doing the same with its EQC), because such vehicles are consumer favorites in the U.S. luxury segment. However,  Audi has more than 10 other EVs in the pipeline, including sedans, coupes and sportier GT-style cars.

When the Belgian-made e-tron hits our shores next year it will come with a price tag starting at $74,800, although early buyers can pick a specially equipped "Edition One" version for $86,700. In both cases a federal tax credit of $7,500 will apply. 

Like most EVs to date, the e-tron uses a skateboard-style flat battery-pack mounted between the vehicle’s two electric motors located at each axle. Performance numbers claimed by Audi include 0-60 mph in 5.5 seconds and a top speed of 124 mph. The 95-kW battery pack should provide a range of up to 250 miles, although like all EVs, that number depends heavily on usage. On the one hand, hills and hard acceleration will deplete the pack, but Audi’s efficient regeneration system will recharge the system whenever the vehicle is slowing down. 

Scott Keogh, Audi of America president, points out that one of the advantages of the company’s deep engineering expertise is a battery-pack design and cooling system that can cope with the thermal stresses of repeated acceleration and high outside temperatures. 

By mid-2019, Audi e-tron owners will be able to take advantage of a large network of charging stations being established across the country by Electrify America, an organization set up by Volkswagen Group to service nearly all brands of EVs. Using the 150-kW charging stations, e-tron drivers will be able to obtain an 80-percent battery charge within 30 minutes. Audi is also offering 9.6-kW charging devices for home installation, which in a new twist, is being facilitated through Amazon. Home units will recharge the e-tron overnight and Audi is providing the first 1000 kWs of energy free.

Audi does not see its first e-tron model as a direct competitor to any current Tesla or the smaller Jaguar I-Pace or Mercedes EQC.

“We have the right vehicle at the right size with all the high-technology you’d expect from Audi,” says Anthony Foulk, Audi product manager. “We have seating for five, air suspension is standard for good ride quality, excellent cargo capacity and the technology you find in our new A8 sedan flagship.” 

Overall, Americans consumers’ interest in EVs is still in its infancy, but Audi calculates it has the right formula to expand the segment. The next two or three years will tell whether Audi and other premium and mainstream brands have what it takes to draw more customers into the electric vehicle era.

John McCormick can be reached at jmccor@aol.com.

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