German automakers, especially the luxury brands, are not necessarily known for humility, modesty, and deference. So for an executive at such a company to acknowledge that a U.S. upstart that didn’t exist 15 years ago “did everything right” is remarkable. That’s exactly what one Audi executive said of electric-car maker Tesla Motors at a recent conference in Germany.
The gentleman in question was Stefan Niemand, Audi’s director of battery-electric vehicles, speaking at the recent Technical Congress held near Stuttgart and hosted by VDA, Germany’s auto-industry trade group.
As covered by EE Times Europe, he suggested that electric cars can hardly break through into the hearts and minds of consumers if they are simultaneously slower, lower-range, and more expensive than gasoline alternatives. Niemand feels buyers will be willing to pay a premium for a “sustainable” vehicle if they don’t have to sacrifice the pleasure and performance of driving.
And, he suggested, once you go electric, you never go back: “Those who [have] ever driven electrically are lost for the internal combustion engine for all time.”
Audi is now selling the A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid hatchback in North America, but its first battery-electric vehicle won’t arrive until 2018. That will be a production version of the e-Tron Quattro Concept crossover utility vehicle shown at last fall’s Frankfurt Motor Show. That was the same show at which the Porsche Mission E electric sport sedan was unveiled, which will likely enter the market the following year.
One part of both companies’ concept introductions was discussion of a very fast DC quick-charging network. Porsche touted a future of 800-volt charging, offering 15-minute recharges to 80 percent of capacity, and Audi committed to offering a 150-kilowatt fast-charging network at the same time as the launch of its electric crossover.
The Tesla Supercharger network, which continues to expand in North America, Europe, and China, presently has a maximum sustained rate of 150 kw. But at the VDA conference, Niemand went further, suggesting that 350 kw would be required to offer “awesome cars and a seamless infrastructure.”
And that’s where Niemand tipped his hat to the Silicon Valley startup.
“I hate to admit it,” Niemand told his audience, “but Tesla did everything right.”
Perhaps one day those words could come to be seen as recognition of a new reality for luxury makers.
Whether or not Tesla Motors survives in its current form, it now offers strong competition for the German legends in some of their core markets — from a company barely a dozen years old that created more advanced technology with far more foresight into the future of automotive technology than they did.
Sic transit gloria mundi?