Electric Cars

Audi delays, relocates E-Tron electric SUV reveal

The timing for this change is odd, but Audi's reason makes sense.

Audi

Big vehicle debuts are the result of years of careful planning and pitch-perfect execution. When something major changes in a short time frame, like what's going on at Audi, it leaves you wondering what happened.

Audi has canceled a summit in Brussels, Belgium, where it planned to unveil the automaker's first battery-electric SUV, the E-Tron. The reveal would have taken place on Aug. 30, but now it's been delayed to a yet-unannounced date and will take place in the US instead of Europe.

This is strange timing, as summit invites had already been sent to members of the media and travel was already in the process of being arranged. A lot of effort, money and time are required to shift an event this large on such short notice. Considering this news comes shortly after Audi CEO Rupert Stadler was arrested in Germany on charges related to the VW diesel scandal, some were quick to pin the event's sudden shift on Stadler's arrest, which makes sense given the pall it casts over Audi's presence in Europe.

We'll have to wait just a bit longer than we anticipated.

Audi

But Audi is saying differently. "This decision is mostly about taking the chance to present our first all-electric vehicle in the US," an Audi spokesman said in an emailed statement. "Our current chairman of the board is bringing a new approach. For [interim CEO] Bram Schot it is very important that our public image is more international. In the past we have celebrated many world premieres in Europe... It is a logical step to have the next Summit and the premiere of the Audi E-Tron in the US."

The thing is, Audi's version makes good sense, too, even if the timing still seems weird. Doing an event in the US -- perhaps timed to an already-existing Audi media event in San Francisco in mid-September -- would put the car squarely in front of many potential buyers. With a starting price in Germany of €80,000 (about $93,000), it's in the realm of affordability for Silicon Valley types and fires a shot across the bow of a certain EV company with NorCal roots. California will undoubtedly be an important market for the E-Tron, as it has been for Audi in general.

Early specs of the E-Tron are promising. The prototypes pack three motors that put out about 429 horsepower and give the SUV a form of all-wheel drive. Its 95-kWh battery pack should provide about 250 miles of range on the European test cycle. Audi promises that European customers can spec high-end cameras that replace traditional side mirrors and improve aerodynamics, but those are still illegal in the US. Even though the summit in Brussels was canceled, the E-Tron will still be built there at Audi's new carbon-neutral facility.

One thing that Audi can't also delay, though, is the plans of its competition. Originally, the E-Tron would have been the first all-electric SUV from the German Big Three (Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz) to make its production debut. Now, that mantle will fall to the Mercedes-Benz EQC, which is slated for debut on Sept. 4 in Stockholm. BMW's iX3 is still just a concept, and while it seems pretty close to production, there doesn't appear to be a debut date set.