Hollywood Favorite Audi to Introduce Electric Models (Report)
Audi aggressively courted Hollywood with product placements and event sponsorships. Its electric R8 and Q8 are meant to remind the town that there can be hip electrics besides Telsa's Model S — and BMW's new i8.
Add Audi to the German nameplates fielding electric cars that will compete directly with Tesla's Model S and its long-delayed Model X crossover SUV, which the company says it will start manufacturing in early 2015.
Citing sources within Audi, Reuters reports that Volkswagen's luxury division plans to offer an electric version of its flashy R8 sports car by the end of this year. Audi also is developing an electric Q8 SUV, a direct competitor to Tesla's Model X, Reuters said.
Hollywood's embrace of the Tesla Model S shook up the status hierarchy that Mercedes, BMW and Audi once ruled by default. Now, each is investing heavily in new electrics and plug-in hybrids that should appeal to the market that Tesla pioneered by selling the Model S as hip, green and technologically advanced.
Audi fielded several concept electric and plug-in hybrid cars in recent years but stopped short of building them over concerns about their range on a single battery charge. Advances in battery technology at Audi — along with Volkswagen's experience producing well-received electrics like the e-Golf and eUp — resulted in range increases to 280 miles per charge for the R8 and about 250 miles for the Q8.
German automakers are betting that the market for electric cars will greatly expand in the coming years. BMW invested billions developing its recently unveiled i3 electric compact and i8 plug-in hybrid sports car. Mercedes, which owns a 4 percent stake in Tesla, has a plug-in hybrid version of its flagship S Class on the way in 2015; its B Class compact electric goes on sale in the U.S. in July.
Navigant Research estimates that worldwide sales of electric, plug-in hybrid and hybrid vehicles will grow from 6.6 million in 2014 to more than 12 million in 2022, when it projects there will be more than 35 million alternative-fuel cars on the road.
Audi's expansion into electrics places further pressure on Tesla, which has experienced difficulties ramping up production to meet demand. The company plans to build a massive "gigafactory" to produce batteries in volume so that it can expand.
Last week, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced he was opening the company's patents to competitors to encourage development across the electric car industry. Tesla also met with BMW about creating a standardized infrastructure for charging stations.