Car Industry

Audi CEO talks E-Tron GT, Tesla and why future EVs will have less range

Ready or not, EVs are coming, and Audi CEO Markus Duesmann wants to ensure that the storied German brand has the right offerings for you.

Audi CEO Markus Duesmann.

EV sales are booming for Audi. That is, at least, if you come at it with the right perspective. "Last year we sold 80% more [than in 2019]," Audi CEO Markus Duesmann told me in an interview last week, "and next year we expect many more sales." That's good news, of course, but then 2019 wasn't exactly full of electrified choices for the brand. The A3 E-Tron was never positioned to be a big-seller and since 2020 was the first full year for the proper E-Tron, things really had to go up.

But where do we go from here? Audi's answer to that question is a 469-horsepower weapon: the E-Tron GT, a brutally fast machine with easy seating for four. This mix -- quick yet comfortable cars -- is Audi's bread and butter, and Duesmann believes that electrification plays directly into the company's wheelhouse. EVs are, by their nature, quiet and smooth. However, they aren't always entertaining. The E-Tron GT will be, Duesmann promises.

"For sure, there is a faster reaction of an electric motor. Combustion engines can't cope with that," Duesmann told me. "Reaction on throttle is instantaneous, and that's big fun."

That's not exactly a surprise, given the E-Tron GT shares much of its hardware with the Porsche Taycan, which we've shown again and again is a fun drive. The GT, though, must be different. "We do share components but we do separate design, interior exterior, also suspension, steering, wheels and the driving behavior," Duesmann said. "We offer a bit more comfort, a bit better situation on long-distance driving."

The E-Tron GT, then, should fit that Audi mix perfectly. But with 238 miles of range offered by its 93-kilowatt-hour battery pack, long distance will mean more stops. This, Duesmann admits, is a place where Tesla presently has an advantage. "Much of the industry started with much smaller batteries. Tesla started with huge batteries, and we see how important range is for our customers. That's why we've invested in more range. ... From now on you will only see purpose-built cars, so you have more space to put a big battery."

Conversely, Duesmann believes that EVs of the future will actually offer less range, not more. "Putting huge batteries for thousands of kilometers, I'm not sure that this is a trend that will go on. ... Later on they will go down because charging infrastructure is denser and also the experience of customers." Audi owners, Duesmann says, will need a little time to adjust to the new EV paradigm. "Today you go to the gas station and get your fuel and its very natural how you get your energy for driving. With electric cars it's not that natural, you have to adjust your behavior a bit. But once you're used to that I think battery sizes will go down again, because they make the cars unnecessarily heavy and unnecessarily expensive. And unnecessarily big, too."


Future electric Audis may be small, but the E-Tron GT certainly is not.


Smaller, lighter EVs are the future, then, but for now Audi has big hopes for the E-Tron GT -- which is itself far from small. Duesmann declined to quantify just how lofty those hopes are, though he did temper expectations by saying that the GT will be built with the R8 in a facility with far lower capacity than Porsche crated for the Taycan. "We have a very good preorder," he added.

But there's more good news on the sales front. Last year, Audi's E-Tron was the best-selling car in Norway. Not just the best-selling EV, but overall. We're a long way from Norway here in the US, of course, but then Audi isn't the only company hoping to bring a little Nordic flavor Stateside.