German automaker Audi has pledged to add a hybrid e-tron version to every vehicle in its lineup, and leading the charge is the 2015 Audi A3 e-tron. But while some automakers have been accused of creating what some people call “compliance cars,” Audi insists there’s a business case for the A3 e-tron.
Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne has made no bones about calling the Fiat 500e a compliance car, asking customers not to buy one, and the Toyota RAV4 EV was a placeholder for the hydrogen-powered Toyota FCV. You’ve also got the Ford Focus Electric, a little-talked-about car that Ford has sold less than 200 of every month so far in 2014. These cars are built and sold only to satisfy California state law, which demands automakers sell a certain amount of zero-emissions vehicles every year.
Don’t call the A3 e-tron a compliance car though. Audi of America President Scott Keogh had this to say over a conference call, according to Wards Auto:
“In our point of view, this is the right solution for the marketplace. If someone is going to make this profound leap into the electric world, this is a perfect bridge-product that basically says you get all of the comfort, range – all the things you expect from a normal car, except you get the added benefit of the electric range from the plug-in.
It’s packaged like an Audi; it drives like an Audi; it has the characteristics of an Audi. We feel that’s the solution.”
As far as a business case for the A3 plug-in hybrid goes, I’d argue that all depends on the price point Audi sets here in the U.S. The 8.8 kWh battery pack is officially rated at 31 miles of driving on the European cycle, but here in the U.S. it’ll be more like 20 miles I reckon. The small battery pack also means a smaller tax credit; the A3 e-tron will be eligible for about $3,750 of the $7,500 tax credit.
However, there isn’t a whole lot of competition in this price range, and with the 1.4 liter TFSI gas engine on-board, Audi claims a total driving range of over 550 miles. Charging takes as little as two hours from a Level 2 charger, or just four hours from a standard 120 volt wall outlet. The Volkswagen Group, of which Audi is a part, hasn’t had much luck with hybrid sales in 2014, and the brand desperately needs a plug-in hit to meet upcoming fuel economy standards.
Will the success of the 2015 A3 e-tron be the yardstick by which every other Volkswagen vehicle is measured? Or a costly lesson in market and pricing?