If current production estimates are adhered to, Tesla Motors will become the first automaker in the world to offer an all-electric, long-range electric SUV when its highly-anticipated 2016 Tesla Model X goes on sale this fall.
Combining the dual-motor, all-wheel drive technology and massive lithium-ion battery pack found in Tesla’s flagship Model S P85D sports sedan with its innovative and unusual falcon-wing second-row doors, the Model X will burst into a market segment currently only occupied by traditional internal combustion and plug-in hybrid models.
Last week at its Annual General Meeting in Neckarsulm, Germany, Volkswagen’s luxury brand Audi became the second automaker to lay claim to that marketplace by confirming its intent to bring an all-electric ‘Sporty SUV’ to the market for 2018.
This vehicle, first discussed at last year’s Annual General Meeting with a promised range on the EPA test cycle of around 310 miles per charge, will most likely be called the Q6 e-tron, and will fit in between Audi’s existing Q5 and Q7 SUV models.
Last year, when talking of the possibility of bringing an all-electric Q6 e-tron to market, Audi CEO Rupert Stadler had said that the vehicle’s long-distance range would be “a must” to enable it to squarely compete with Tesla Motors and its Model X. We’d assume a similar performance would also be a prerequisite of any all-electric, long-range SUV from Audi, as well as four-wheel drive to enable it to use its prized quattro nameplate.
There’s really little in the way of details right now as to what the Q6 e-tron will be like, but thanks to Audi’s head of engineering Dr. Prof. Ulrich Hackenberg, we do know that the Q6 e-tron won’t look like anything the German automaker has produced before.
Talking ahead of the Shanghai Auto Show, Hackenberg said that the all-new SUV — which will use the same Volkswagen Group MLB platform as the 2016 Q7 e-tron and upcoming 2017 Volkswagen Cross-Blue SUV — will use the same design language as Audi’s series of Prolouge Concept Cars the automaker has produced over recent months.
Of the concept cars demonstrated thus far, the closest to an SUV is the Prologue Allroad Concept, a vehicle unveiled earlier this year in Shanghai. Powered by a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 married to a plug-in hybrid drivetrain that gave it a combined fuel economy of 98 miles per gallon, the Prolouge Allroad Concept evokes the same sweeping tailgate, high waistline and low roofline as cars like the BMW X6 and Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe. It also featured inductive wireless charging, and the possibility for autonomous operation in the future thanks to Audi’s ongoing piloted drive project.
Like both of those cars from rival German automakers, the Q6 will be built to combine the practicality and ride height of a crossover SUV with the performance and styling of a sports coupe. In keeping with the Volkswagen group’s preference to offering a variety of different drivetrains for each vehicle it produces, we’d guess the Q6 will most likely be offered with internal combustion engine and plug-in hybrid options as well as all-electric — and possibly even a hydrogen variant.
Will it compete with the Tesla Model X? That’s tough to say right now since neither the specification of the Model X nor the specification of the Q6 have been tied down yet. Audi looks to have the range and autonomous capabilities to cross-shop against the Model X, as well as perhaps the performance.
But there are two things we’re not sure Audi can match yet: Tesla’s free-for life Supercharging network and its over-the-air update technology.
We’ll be watching closely to see how Audi chooses to tackle these two particular killer features of its biggest rival in the segment.
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