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With the unveiling of the all-electric Audi e-tron® in San Francisco, EVs have evolved from buzzwords to buzzworthy.
Only on my way out of town—when the security agent at San Francisco International Airport noticed my bracelets (both sporting the four rings, from various events) and asked enthusiastically, “So how did the e-tron look?”—did I realize what a big deal The Charge was.
The Audi-sponsored extravaganza did feel like a takeover of the city, with events happening all over San Francisco and ads everywhere about the world premiere of the all-electric Audi e-tron®. You couldn’t miss that The Charge was the unveiling of something important, innovative and beautiful, something that would not only cover the e-tron but also dive deep into its technologies and the future of electromobility.
But sometimes—when you are on the inside and you know what’s coming—you forget how this might affect not just you but the world at large. In this case, the question is about how we can produce a premium experience with a diverse lineup of zero-tailpipe emission vehicles on national and international scales.
In other words, is it possible for us to move past the buzzwords about some vague “future” and introduce advanced technologies, and beautiful vehicles, in the now?
Photo: Trevor Hacker
Charge ahead
The centerpiece of the three-day event featured the unveiling of the Audi e-tron production model at a gala event in Craneway Pavilion on the northeastern shore of San Francisco Bay. On the way to the former automotive plant—on a paddleboat filled with more than 1,600 journalists, Audi dealers and VIPs—we watched as 300 Intel drones lit up the bay to bring life to the building and “charge” its surroundings. The drones welcomed guests while forming the iconic Audi four-ring logo overhead.
Then Audi of America President Scott Keogh set the tone in his speech, highlighting the innovations and repeating the theme of “Electric has gone Audi” and what it will mean for the consumer.
“Tonight isn’t about us setting [sales] records,” he said. “It’s about setting the standard for premium electrification.”
Keogh talked about the definition of the word “audi”—listen—and the efforts of his counterparts in Germany to listen to what the American market had to say about EV adoption. To that end, German and American engineers worked to create an electric vehicle that held true to the Audi standards of innovation and luxury while featuring the kind of driving range that would allay the anxieties of the American consumer.
The result of that collaboration—the Audi e-tron®, which will be available next year for drivers in the United States—dashed onto the Craneway stage amid a thumping house beat with all eyes on it and most trying to place it in the current Audi lineup. In terms of size and design, the five-seater has elements of the Audi Q5 and the Audi Q7 but leans a little more toward the crossover style of the Audi Q8 and with a shorter front, since there’s no combustion engine to take up the space.
Then there’s the Audi performance. The standard, dual, electric motors are expected to launch the e-tron to 60 mph in about 5.5 seconds, with the signature full-torque availability right off the line.
The key is that this is happening. And coming soon. U.S.-based customers can place pre-orders for a refundable $1,000 deposit immediately. For the American market, Audi will offer three trim levels: Premium Plus at an MSRP of $74,800[1], Prestige at $81,800[1], and First Edition, of which only 999 will be offered at $86,700[1].
Diving into e-tron
The party in Richmond went on into the night, but one thing said by Bram Schot, interim Chairman of the Board of Management of AUDI AG and Board Member for Sales and Marketing, warranted more exploration:
“We strive to be the trendsetters for autonomous mobility. The Audi Aicon demonstrated our vision: fully electric, fully autonomous and fully connected. With cars like that, we want to redefine individual mobility. We plan to offer more than 20 electrified models by 2025. Some will be plug-in-hybrids. More than half will be fully electric. Following the Audi e-tron, we will launch the Audi e-tron Sportback next year and an electric-powered compact model in 2020, as well as a four-door Gran Turismo in the same year. We believe: In the midst of the next decade, one-third of our sold cars will be electrified.”
This was the kind of future talk usually associated with electric vehicles, even if the dates are looming in the immediate term. The proof of this vision was on full display, however, at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium across the street from San Francisco City Hall. Audi engineers and e-tron product experts walked visitors through displays and innovations, along with tech talk idea-sharing seminars, to dive into the future of e-tron that Schot mentioned.
From battery design and innovations to charging accessibility, experts walked through how Audi plans to build, maintain and grow their EV presence.
For example, a battery expert explained to me an augmented reality presentation for the design of the battery compartment, saying it is a sealed module encased in aluminum and separated by a partition to help isolate it and minimize risk of a thermal spike spreading. He said in the event that the battery ever needs servicing, it has been designed to enable everything down to the module level to be serviced, which makes battery maintenance easier and more efficient.
Cody Thacker, Director of Audi ONE and an e-tron expert based at AoA headquarters in Virginia, gave a seminar about charging and compatibility, comparing a road-trip refueling stop with that of an EV charge stop. He said a refueling stop takes about seven minutes, but on longer road trips, travelers stop anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes to eat, use the restroom and stretch. Which is why the e-tron will have support for charging at up to 150 kW. At 50 kW public charging stations, the e-tron can get to approximately 80 percent charge in about 30 minutes[2].
There’s always more
The e-tron® program will feature a program with Amazon Home Services division to facilitate installation of home EV chargers. Customers will be able to place orders online, and then an electrician will come to the home and take care of the installation process.
Meanwhile, the vehicles will come with Amazon Alexa Voice Service[3,4], offering many of the same features found in the Amazon Echo[3] smart speaker in North America and Europe. After linking a car to an Amazon account, consumers will be able to say a standard range of Alexa® commands to playback music, access weather information, add items to a to-do list, order food, and even control other Alexa®-enabled devices connected to that account.
“This is about setting the standard 
for premium electrification.”
European model shown. Specifications may change.
Photo: Trevor Hacker
Charging station unleashed
Finally, The Charge ended with a vision of what the future could be: through a charging station that we helped design for the electric era. On display at this pop-up experience near the North Beach neighborhood in San Francisco, the general public could see the 2019 e-tron up close and place their reservations. They also could walk around the other electric Audi vehicles on display, including the championship-winning Formula E race car and the 764-hp PB18 e-tron concept vehicle, which recently debuted at Monterey Car Week.
The pop-up event offered a creative look at how we might recharge in a greener, zero-emissions world: with Electrify America chargers, charging one of a dozen or so e-tron models or variants; a fun play area of four-ring swings; the option of eating clean, delicious foods; and prepping for the next leg of the road trip.
This aspirational vision of the future resonated with the chefs and co-owners of Michelin-starred restaurant State Bird Provisions, who catered the unique rest stop. Husband and wife Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski were contracted to make the flavorful food at the pop-up snack shop—candied almonds, rice bran oil-fried potato chips with an onion dip, a Meyer lemon ice cream sandwich—but they felt drawn to the concept.
“We look for partners who have authenticity,” Krasinski said. “We want it to feel natural, and this was a natural fit.”
The Charge ended on that delicious note.