Audi Sport’s Electric Future Holds the Potential for S, RS E-Tron Models

Michael Renz, head of Audi’s enthusiast’s-pleasing division, doesn’t seem to have any worries about the carmaker’s EV-filled future.

byWill Sabel Courtney|

Audi, like fellow German luxury carmakers BMW, Porsche, and Mercedes-Benz, is diving into the electric car game with the enthusiasm of Greg Louganis. The carmaker's first pure EV, the e-tron crossover, is set to be revealed September 17th in San Francisco—one early shot in a volley of dozens upon dozens of new electric automobiles the Volkswagen Group has planned for the next decade—and the Ingolstadt-based company has plenty more stacked up behind it in the magazine. 

"As a high-performance car producer, Audi needs to deliver" in the electric vehicle space, Michael Renz, head of Audi Sport GmbH, said during the annual automotive extravaganza surrounding the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. The seriousness of his words was clear, based on the concept standing not five feet away when he spoke: the Audi PB 18 e-tron, a gray sports car that seemed equal parts electrified R8 successor and modern-day Ferrari Breadwagon. 

Audi PB 18 e-tron concept, Will Sabel Courtney

The idea behind the concept, Renz said, was to take advantage of the capabilities of an EV package. "Let's think very open," he said. (In one case, that's rather literal: Due to the lack of an engine or attendant cooling systems up front, the small front end has a viewing hole passing directly through the hood, allowing the driver to peer down onto the roadway directly in front of the car.) The basic idea was to create a two-seater with plenty of room inside, one that would be good for both the grand tour and for the racetrack. The cargo bay in the back of the one-and-a-half-box shape can hold 16.6 cubic feet of cargo, providing plenty of luggage room for a two-person road trip; when the time comes for road course fun, the drive-by-wire controls enable the driver's seat to slide over to the center of the car, providing an ideal seating position. (Audi didn't offer any explanation as to where the passenger's seat would go in that situation.) And the 800-volt charging system enables it to suck up electrons nice and quick, which is great for both use cases. 

Whether for road trips or track days, however, the PB 18 is designed to put the emphasis on the driver and his or her entertainment. “They want to have [a] kick, thrill, goosebumps,” Renz said of the people who would buy such a car. So they aimed in the opposite direction of the bevy of self-driving vehicles companies are proposing these days. "We call it Level Zero," he said. 

The PB 18 e-tron represents "a broader and wider level of ideas," Renz said, ones that can be used in other future sports cars. Or, for that matter, on other sportified electric vehicles: Audi Sport will be responsible for building the all-electric Audi e-tron GT, a sporty four-seat battery-powered car primed to take the fight to Tesla and Porsche circa the year 2020. (Don't confuse it with the Audi e-tron Vision Gran Turismo, which was a fully-functioning version of the video game racer built by the company and revealed earlier this year.) Indeed, Renz said the e-tron GT will be built in the same facility the R8 is today, thus hopefully imparting some good sports car mojo onto the EV. 

Beyond that, Renz said it's fully possible that the S and RS designations Audi fans know and love will find their way onto the butts of the carmaker's electric vehicles in the future. S and RS, he said, signify levels of performance; they're not necessarily restricted to gasoline-powered models. 

And while the PB 18 e-tron itself is a work of concept car fantasy, Renz says there's always a chance it could find its way to the marketplace in some way, shape, or form. "If we find the business case and enough customers are there, then we’re ready to go," Renz said. "And we know what it’d look like.”