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Full power: with high-power charging, long-life batteries and smart interior and exterior design, there’s nothing putting the brakes on Audi’s new model of electric mobility. Vehicle models with long ranges and fast-charging technology are now primed to play their part in making sure the car’s future is more energy-efficient.


Essay

Over the past seven instalments of this series in collaboration with Audi we have examined the factors and conditions needed to facilitate the advent (and possible hegemony) of electric cars. Now we let the brand-new e-tron provide preliminary answers to the many questions that accompany the introduction of mobility solutions.

This September, Audi’s first all-electric, full-powered SUV model makes its debut. Take a ride through its key features.

How will electric mobility change our urban context?
Cutting local emissions is an electric car’s most impactful contribution to increasing quality of life in a city. Other than decreasing smog, an electric engine is almost silent, so could bring down street-noise levels.

The almost imperceptible hum of a battery-powered motor is hardly a disturbance for pedestrians. But the Audi e-tron’s exceptional soundproofing ensures passengers can enjoy a peaceful experience: sealed-off zones mean almost no interference or wind noise can disturb a ride, allowing people to make the most of an impeccable Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system.

Is it possible to build a charging network that is extensive enough to ensure that our cars’ batteries never run out, wherever we happen to be?
Using the e-tron charging service, drivers of the Audi e-tron have a single contract and bill – and also get access to more than 65,000 public charging stations installed throughout Europe (a number that is set to increase).

For fast charging on long-distance trips, there are plans in the works to build the groundbreaking Ionity network, which will consist of 200 high-performance charging stations (and the aim is for this figure to go up to 400 stations by 2020). As one of the first cars on the market that can charge up to 150kW, an Audi e-tron is ready for its next long-distance trip in fewer than 30 minutes.

How can small design and technology improvements help the performance and adoption of a car?
A car’s appearance is one factor that drives us to choose a model but design solutions always have a role beyond aesthetics.

A sleek, aerodynamic exterior makes all the difference when it comes to decreasing levels of energy consumption. A drag co-efficient of only 0.28 helps to further increase the range of the Audi e-tron, for one of the best results in the whole SUV segment.

Engineers have devised other ingenious solutions, such as the model’s aerodynamically optimised virtual side-mirrors, an optional add-on that will be made available post-launch.

These small cameras, integrated on the vehicle’s exterior, gather images displayed on the seven-inch OLED displays in the car’s interior, and can be adapted to different situations, from highway driving to turning and parking as well.

Adjustable damping allows the whole body of the car to lower by a number of millimetres, and a dimpled aluminium under-panel and other highly technical details, such as a controllable cool-air inlet, also contribute to aerodynamism.

Energy savings are important in all contexts – that’s one of the reasons why Audi’s engineers have created an advanced energy-management system that uses, for example, paddle shifters to allow almost all braking energy to feed into the battery.

These solutions never result in a compromise in size or quality of interior: the interior and exterior materials and design of an Audi e-tron prove that electric mobility is absolutely not putting the brakes on comfort – and, most importantly, the joy of a ride.


Q&A

When he isn’t running his design studio from its Turin, New York and London branches, Italian architect Carlo Ratti heads up the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Senseable City Lab. This research group focuses on urbanism and concerns itself with drawing up ideas for the metropolis of the future – including its mobility systems.

Q Do you envisage any feasible option for the mobility of the future that is not electric?
A I think it might take time, but most transportation systems – cars and motorcycles, bikes and so on – will eventually go fully electric.

Q What do you think cities could do to adapt and assist the transition to electric mobility? And what do you think is most effective in encouraging the evolution towards the right electric mobility?
A The most important thing is to do tests in those engaged cities. I’ve been advising the government of Singapore for the past three years and that’s been an exciting path for testing new technologies: looking at the impact on the city and seeing how citizens might respond. Technology is neutral – it depends how we use it. Last year the cost of the power produced by solar went down so much that in some countries it can now be a cheap form of energy. So regardless of policies trying to promote coal, the economics are not there. When we’ve got abundant renewable energy, this will happen regardless. Some factors may speed the transition, and some may hamper it, but it’s going to happen.

Q How important is design in the equation? Do you think it’s a determining factor in getting people on board with electric mobility?
A What we will see, I believe, is a big change in design. Not from the point of view of design that beautifies the appearance of the car, but design in the sense of thinking about new form factors for vehicles. Design is going to be very important – and not just to change the appearance of the car, as we’ve seen in the past few decades.


Where to next?

This is the final instalment of our eight-part series considering the car of the future. From urbanists to engineers, we have spoken to experts changing the world of mobility.

Audi’s electric mobility of the future starts now: the Audi e-tron is ready for the road.


Catch up on part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 of the Audi x Monocle series.

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  • The Foreign Desk