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The Audi Q4 Sportback e-tron concept car.Courtesy of manufacturer

The first 100 days on the job for Audi’s new chief executive officer Markus Duesmann were strange.

“Production was at a standstill and the office was almost deserted, so crisis management was a top priority in the first days,” admitted Duesmann last week during his first official appearance in the new role. He was previously a member of the board of management at BMW.

But Audi’s production lines are moving again, and the automaker announced a raft of new developments along with it, including a new all-electric SUV – the Q4 e-tron Sportback – as well as a new triple-motor electric SUV and details of a skunkworks project intended to speed up the development of future vehicles.

More affordable EVs

The Q4 Sportback e-tron will go into production in 2021.Courtesy of manufacturer

The all-electric Q4 e-tron Sportback is technically still a concept car, but it will go into production in 2021. The more conventionally-styled Q4 e-tron SUV is slated for 2020.

Duesmann called the compact electric Q4 SUVs a “cornerstone” of Audi’s electrification strategy. The hope is that their lower prices – compared to the brand’s flagship $90,000 e-tron EV – and higher driving range will make them big sellers.

Prices have yet to be announced, but being built on Volkswagen Group’s MEB platform – a dedicated EV architecture that also underpins VW’s upcoming ID.4 SUV – should create economies of scale and lower the cost for consumers.

Driving range for the dual-motor, all-wheel drive Q4 with an 82-kilowatt-hour battery will be more than 450 km on the WLTP standard. (Take that with a grain of salt since you can expect significantly less range using the North American EPA rating standard.) A single-motor, rear-wheel drive Q4 with more than 500 km of range is also in the works. The Q4′s battery can be recharged up to 80 per cent in 30 minutes, using 125-kilowatt charging.

Faster EVs

High-performance versions of Audi’s existing EV are on the way too. The e-tron S and e-tron S Sportback will have three electric motors, two at the rear axle and one at the front, similar to Tesla’s upcoming “Plaid” powertrain which Elon Musk has been hyping.

The Q4′s battery can be recharged up to 80 per cent in 30 minutes.Courtesy of manufacturer

The “S” versions of the e-tron will put down 496 horsepower and a tire-shredding 718 lb.-ft. of torque, which is significantly more than you get in, say, the new Ferrari F8 Tributo. The sprint from 0-100 km/h will take 4.5 seconds, which isn’t quite as quick as a Ferrari or a Tesla, but not bad for a family-friendly SUV.

According to Audi Canada, the e-tron S Sportback is scheduled to arrive sometime next year. The non-S version of e-tron Sportback is landing in Canada now.

The original e-tron is a good electric SUV – one that’s outselling the Tesla Model S and X combined in Europe – but its 329 km range is somewhat underwhelming, especially here in North America.

“I think Audi has heard the complaints about the initial e-tron range and is actively working to improve on that starting with the Sportback,” said Sam Abuelsamid, principal analyst for e-mobility at market research firm Guidehouse Insights. “Among the premium brands in Europe, I think Audi and BMW are moving the most aggressively to counter the challenge from Tesla,” he added.

Project Artemis

The non-S version of the e-tron Sportback will be landing in Canada soon.Courtesy of manufacturer

Duesmann also referred to the Artemis project, which aims to speed development of new cars. The first fruit of that labour will be a, “highly-efficient electric car that’s scheduled to go into production as early as 2024,” Duesmann said.

“With digital products and technologies, our customers have learned that they can expect new products in far shorter cycles,” he explained. Audi wants to take a page out of the tech-industry playbook and shortening the lengthy five-to-seven year development cycle for new vehicles.

The Artemis group is led by Alex Hitzinger, an engineer VW poached from Apple, who previously worked in Formula 1 racing and on Porsche’s Le Mans-winning team.

EV sales

The S versions of the e-tron will make the sprint from 0-100 km/h in 4.5 seconds.Courtesy of manufacturer

Audi sales hit rock bottom in April and rebounded significantly in May, said Hildegard Wortmann, member of Audi’s board of management for sales and marketing.

The recovery, however, has varied by region. In China, for example, Audi sales in May were 36 per cent higher than during the same month last year. The U.S. market is also picking up, though Europe will likely see a “slower recovery,” she said.

Canada’s recovery is well underway with total new vehicle sales increasing dramatically in May and June, according to market research firm DesRosiers Automotive Consultants.

Zero emissions vehicles (ZEVs) gained market share in April, representing a record 5.6 per cent of all new vehicles sold, according to the latest available data from Electric Mobility Canada (EMC), a pro-EV non-profit.

The biggest issue facing ZEVs right now, said EMC president Daniel Breton, is not that dealers can’t sell them, but that dealers are saying they’re running out of inventory.

“I’m confident that with more and more choices, sales are going to go up, especially since this year and next we’re going to start to have electric SUVs – and that’s what people want,” said Breton.

With gas prices climbing back up and Audi set to launch four new electric SUVs over the next 18 months, it’s still anybody’s guess as to what the EV market will look like this time next year.

“The coronavirus is still here to stay for a while longer I fear,” said Duesmann. “But, we are taking the crisis as an opportunity, even an invitation, to break new ground and to try new things.”

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