America might be awash with cheap gas, but China’s appalling smog problem and the growing backlash against diesels in Western Europe’s crowded cities have forced Germany’s premium automakers to re-evaluate their markets, especially since last year the Chinese bought more than 22 million vehicles and the Europeans bought 14 million.
The major players in Munich, Stuttgart, and Ingolstadt are spending big on electric vehicles, which are expected to comprise up to 25 percent of new vehicle sales by 2025. Seeing how the combustion engine will be with us for decades to come, these manufacturers are inventing distinct, flexible vehicle architectures that meet the needs of the old and new worlds alike.
It has yet to be decided if Audi or its sibling Porsche will develop a bespoke premium EV platform for Volkswagen Group. The platform will have to be low, sleek, and easily adaptable because designers need these elements to make noncrossover EVs look good. Until the group bosses make a decision, Audi and Porsche are heading in different directions in terms of EV development.
Audi could easily justify an exclusive, tailor-made, EV-compatible matrix for almost all of its models, A4 through Q8, replacing the MLB components they’re currently built on. However, if the A4 moves to the cheaper MQB architecture and the Q7 and Q8 SUVs plus the A8 sedan move to the front-engine, rear- or all-wheel-drive MSB hardware, that complicates matters. Audi is basing its midsize electric SUV, due in 2018, on the MLB Evo architecture used in the all-new Q5, and that same hardware will also be used for the Audi ESS (electric sports sedan) due in 2019, which is basically a battery-fed A7 look-alike. Both models can be built on existing assembly lines, but because they are based on MLB Evo, they’ll be heavier and less space efficient than they should be. Audi will also collaborate with VW on a five-seat, zero-emission crossover that will likely be badged EQ4 when it arrives in 2020.
After losing a lot of money on the ambitiously over-engineered Project i, BMW is now refocusing its efforts on more affordable EV architectures. The first to make its debut will be the highly autonomous i20, a coupe-like crossover due in 2021. A couple of inches taller yet barely longer than a 3 Series, i20 is as roomy inside as a long-wheelbase 7 Series, sources say, and it features a signature front end, eye-catching taillight design, and sexy proportions. Three versions are rumored: base, sport (both with two rear-mounted motors), and max (one motor up front, two in the rear). The motors are BMW’s own design, rated at 80 hp, 120 hp, and 148 hp with a max 444 hp combined available. The i20 will forgo the carbon-fiber platform concept used for the i3 and i8 in favor of a new aluminum-intensive platform, FSAR, which incorporates elements of existing front- and rear-wheel-drive architectures, FAAR and CLAR. FSAR will also use high-strength steel and composites, and its side panels will be made from carbon fiber.
The second-generation i3 is scheduled to go on sale in 2022. It will be redesigned from bottom to top, grow at least half a size, and get a new model designation. Described as a premium urban EV, the new i3 features a monolithic under-floor battery pack. The side panels are recycled carbon fiber, the roof aluminum, and the FSAR chassis steel. Driving range will be between 250 and 370 miles, depending on specification. The exotic i8 is going to evolve into the high-performance electric sports car it should’ve been from the start. There’s been talk of a plug-in hybrid successor developed in conjunction with McLaren, but BMW’s inline-six won’t fit, an inline-four lacks prestige, and a V-8 is overkill, so an all-electric supercar makes sense. Not expected before 2024, the new i8 should benefit from significant reductions in battery weight, size, and cost. Two different concepts are under evaluation; one uses three high-revving motors to generate 750 hp combined, and the other has a motor at each wheel, creating a total system output of more than 1,050 hp.
For elegant styling, slick aerodynamics, good rigidity, and a low center of gravity, most of the batteries will be installed in a center tunnel.
Mercedes will launch 10 new EVs by 2025. The EQC SUV, a direct descendant of the 2016 Paris Show’s EQ concept, will appear in 2019. The top-of-the-line model gets an 80-kWh power pack and two 201-hp motors. In late 2018, the automaker plans to launch an experimental low-volume fuel cell EQC spin-off to test customer response and charging infrastructure.
The EQC will be followed by heavily modified A- and B-Class variants: the 2020 EQA, which is effectively an electric GLA, and the 2021 EQB, based on the seven-seat GLB. They will share their architecture with the front-wheel-drive MFA2 family, and both will be equipped with 60-kWh battery packs and 201-hp motors that should allow the crossovers to cover up to 300 miles between charges.
The dedicated EVA2 electric vehicle architecture comes out in 2020. EVA2 is a relatively straightforward modular arrangement designed to accommodate three battery sizes (60, 80, and 110 kWh), three electric motors (188, 241, and 335 hp), and deliver driving ranges of between 250 and 360 miles. For elegant styling, slick aerodynamics, good rigidity, and a low center of gravity, most of the batteries will be installed in a center tunnel. EVA2 will make its debut as a large sedan badged EQS, followed by a shorter version of the sedan known as EQE. The bigger model aims at the gap between E- and S-Class while the smaller model straddles C- and E-Class. In 2022, Mercedes intends to add EQS and EQE crossovers that offer as much interior room as today’s GLS and GLE models, despite smaller overall sizes. AMG is already toying with hotter S models complete with motors for each rear wheel and a third driving the front axle.
More than 600 HP, 0 to 60 mph in less than 4 seconds, 300 miles of range, and an 80 percent charge in less than 15 minutes. Bring it to life already, Porsche.
Although the 2021 Macan will have an EV version built on a modified version of its present architecture, Porsche’s new Mission E, due in 2021, rolls on the bespoke and highly flexible J1 EV platform with a massive, T-shaped battery pack that feeds powerful front and rear motors. J1 may turn out to be one of VW Group’s best EV platforms; Audi Sport has expressed interest in a J1 spin-off, Lamborghini would love an electric Espada reincarnation, and Bentley may be tempted to convert its Speed 6 into an EV.
Illustrations: BMW/Jan Schmitt; Mercedes/Jean Francois Hubert