Legacy automakers like Volkswagen, Jaguar, and Mercedes are currently racing to catch up with Tesla when it comes to electric vehicles. The evidence, so far, is that they are all very much behind, and Audi is no exception, with its new-ish CEO saying Thursday they were years behind.
That’s despite the fact that Audi makes a car—the E-Tron—that has been well-reviewed and very much is in the space of Tesla Model X. Audi even issued a press release last week calling the E-Tron the “world market leader in its segment,” noting that 17,641 E-Trons were delivered in the first half of 2020 globally.
But Markus Duesmann, who took over as CEO of Audi in April, said Thursday that the company still had a lot of work to do, and also conceded that Tesla’s technological advantage remained vast. That’s because while the E-Tron has been praised for its looks and its driveability, range has been a consistent criticism. The E-Tron’s range is 204 miles according to the EPA, while the Model X’s is 351 miles at most.
“Currently, Tesla has larger batteries because their cars are built around the batteries. Tesla is two years ahead in terms of computing and software architecture, and in autonomous driving as well,” Duesmann said.
It’s somewhat rare for the CEO of any automaker to admit flat out that a competitor is well ahead of it, but Duesmann was brought in quite specifically to help Audi catch up technologically. And while different versions of the E-Tron including the Sportback and a GT version are also in the works, Audi is gonna need more than that if it really wants to mount a serious challenge to Tesla.
Indeed, in May Audi said it had formed a task force to make a new electric car by 2024 in a project that the company is calling Artemis. That project makes the E-Tron sound like a bridge to what really is Audi’s electric future, i.e. whatever this task force is trying to cook up.
“Artemis” will focus on new technologies for electric, highly automated driving with a specific model reference. Its first task is to create a highly efficient electric car that is scheduled to be on the road as early as 2024. The creative team will also develop an extensive ecosystem around the car, thus designing a new business model for the entire usage phase.
Four years to get a new electric car on the road is about the same development time as an all-new internal combustion engine car, so that part isn’t surprising. You only wonder just how long Duesmann’s leash will be at Audi, one of the Volkswagen Group’s most profitable marques. For now, it seems long enough, since Duesmann also said Thursday that he doesn’t see sales returning to normal until as late as 2023. Underpromise, overdeliver, etc.