2014 NAIAS: Audi R8 e-tron Supercar Will Enter Production After All, Says Audi Tech Boss

Audi’s R8 e-tron electric supercar has had a very chequered history. After being introduced back in 2009 at the Frankfurt Auto Show, the super-sexy plug-in supercar has been axed, brought back from the dead, promised and ignored more times than we care to note. Oh, and it starred as Tony Stark’s latest plug-in car of choice in Iron Man III.

The Audi R8 e-tron project might be heading for production after all.

The Audi R8 e-tron project might be heading for production after all.

As recently as last fall we thought the car had been axed for good, but then we heard multiple rumours citing anonymous sources within Audi claiming the German automaker had decided to relaunch development after a massive leap in battery technology improved the car’s range.  Now we have confirmation of the fact, courtesy of none other than Dr. Ulrich Hackenberg, Audi’s technical chief.

The Audi R8 e-tron is yet again back on track, heading for production. At least for the time being.

Talking with Autoexpress at the 2014 North American International Auto Show in Detroit yesterday, Hackenberg said that he issued instructions for the project to be rebooted after some massive improvements in battery technology made the project far more viable. While development has now restarted on the plug-in supercar, Hackenberg admitted that he’s now in the process of persuading Audi’s board to green light the car for production.

Hackenberg, who Audi from Volkswagen last year, is no stranger to plug-in cars. Having overseen development of Volkswagen’s XL1 diesel plug-in hybrid and Audi A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid as well as the all-electric e-Up and e-Golf that go on sale this year, Hackenberg is no stranger to the benefits of plug-in cars.

“I think electric drive has a big future,” he said. “With battery tech now it is vital to have plug-in hybrids, but as batteries improve we will move towards all-electric.”

Of batteries, Hackenberg says the R8 e-tron’s original battery pack had some major problems, both in terms with cost and range. We’re guessing it was this — along with a distrust of plug-in cars — which led the Audi board to originally shelve the idea for the all-electric supercar.  But, says Hackenberg, there’s hope as Audi has “now taken the step to use a different type of battery” to improve range, and cost.

What the exact changes are remains unclear, but from what an Audi insider told Drive in December last year, a direct consequence of moving to a new battery chemistry — likely including a more energy-dense electrode design — meant that the R8 e-trons range had “grown significantly” from 135 miles of the original concept car to over 250.

Obviously, that figure has yet to be officially confirmed by Audi, along with a production date, but provided Audi’s board shares Hackenberg’s enthusiasm, we’ll not only see the R8 e-tron as a “tech carrier for other models” but a production date some time within the next two years.

If the Audi R8 e-tron ever does enter production, we think it will likely be compared to Tesla’s no-longer produced Roadster sportscar, both in terms of speed and performance. Unlike the Roadster however, the R8 e-tron prototypes we’ve seen boast not just one, but two 140 kilowatt electric motors capable of propelling it fro, 0-62 mph in 4.2 seconds.  That’s just a little faster than the 4.4 second 0-62 time of Tesla’s current best seller, the all-electric Model S sedan.

At the current time and given this car’s chequered history, we think it’s way to early to say that the R8 e-tron will certainly enter production. But this latest piece of news from Audi’s tech chief certainly makes a good case that we should expect something from Audi confirming production very soon.


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