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The new Audi R8 e-tron electric car is seen during the first press day ahead of the 85th International Motor Show in Geneva March 3, 2015.

ARND WIEGMANN/Reuters

Hear that? That's progress, accelerating silently.

With the unveiling of the R8 e-tron at the Geneva International Motor Show, Audi will become the second major auto maker to produce an all-electric sports car. It is yet another milestone indicating the slow progress of EVs into the mainstream.

The R8 e-tron will zip from 0-100 km/h in a silent 3.9 seconds. And, More importantly, it can cover a claimed range of 450 kilometres before needing to recharge.

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Mercedes-Benz was the first major auto maker to put a modern electric sports car on the market. The SLS AMG Electric Drive was built in limited numbers and carried a price tag of roughly $500,000. Tesla, of course, beat all the big names to market with its now-discontinued Roadster.

But Audi has had its eye on this market for some time. It's been six years since we saw the first e-tron concept at the Frankfurt motor show. In 2010 at Detroit and Paris, Audi showed off two more iterations of the e-tron. Hints were dropped about production. A handful of prototypes were built. Then the project was shelved. But now it's back on and Audi is finally ready to commit.

The e-tron's not just about meeting emissions targets, said Roland Schala, the man in charge of the R8 project. "It's the right time. We can now have a big range with the battery, 450 km. This was a big step in the technology."

Compared to those earlier prototypes, Audi says it has improved the energy density of its lithium-ion batteries from 84 watt-hours per kilogram to 154.

Electric power lends itself to sports cars, said Stefan Knirsch, head of powertrain development at Audi. "E-motors are very powerful from low revs up to high speeds," he said. Behind the wheel, they feel almost like a modern twin-turbo motor on steroids: instant unstoppable force.

With 456 horsepower and 678 lb-ft of torque, the R8 e-tron should be able to outrun the old V-8 powered model. Although, as usual, don't expect to enjoy all that power and still eke out the full 450 kilometres of range.

Underpinning the second-generation R8 is the same platform as the Lamborghini Huracan. Increased use of aluminum and carbon-fibre have brought the weight down by 50 kilograms, which should help to offset some of the e-tron's heavy battery pack. The lithium-ion unit sits underneath the car, in a T-shape, between and behind the seats.

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The new R8 V-10 should go on sale in North America in early 2016, with the V-8 model and e-tron to follow soon after.

By 2017 or 2018, we should see the technology developed in the R8 e-tron in an all-electric four- or five-seat sedan, Knirsch said.

The R8 is arguably Audi's most important product from a brand perspective. The first model, launched in 2007, gave Audi a world-class sports car to compete against Porsche. This second R8 will put Audi on the front lines of a sports car market not even Porsche has yet jumped into.

That Audi is willing to take this risk with its halo car is a sure sign electric vehicles are about to come of age.

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