The Audi e-Tron Concept Car Can Change Its Shape to Slip Though the Wind

Audi's e-Tron shows what active control can do—not just to the engine but the body

2 min read

This article is part of an IEEE Spectrum special report: Top 10 Tech Cars of 2010.

The Audi e-Tron all-electric sports car—a direct challenge to the much ballyhooed Tesla Roadster—is chock-full of gadgetry, including a heat pump (rather than a heater), an ultralight aluminum and composite body, and a shape-shifting exterior that deploys movable grilles and the like to reduce drag and to channel cooling air past the battery.

And, unlike most concept cars, the e-Tron actually goes. At least, that’s the word from automotive writers who’ve driven one. The machine packs plenty of motive power in the form of four motors, one for each wheel. Some automotive engineers would cringe at having to suspend and shock absorb all that unsprung, rotating mass, but this arrangement allows for a precise, fourfold, moment-by-moment split of torque among the four wheels.

And quite a bit of torque it is. Gearing in the front and back lets the motors, 230 kilowatts (312 horsepower) in all, churn out the equivalent of 2650 newton meters (3320 foot-pounds), more than the frame could bear if automatic controls didn’t set a limit way, way below that number. The result is still enough to kick you from 0 to 100 kilometers per hour (62 miles per hour) in under 6 seconds. Audi estimates it can go 240 km (150 miles) on a charge of its lithium-ion battery pack, the usable portion of which is rated at 43 kilowatt-hours.

Clearly, Audi wouldn’t have made this concept car so immediately drivable if it weren’t planning on turning it into a production car. So is electricity the future of supercars? Perhaps. Everyone presumes that an electric car is good mainly for the environment, or for reducing an auto company’s average fleet fuel-economy rating. In fact, an electric car—with its stupendous torque—has the potential to beat many a gas burner in a sprint. It’s a natural technology for a supercar.

This article originally appeared in print as "Audi’s electric concept car is an all-wheel-drive shape-shifter."

To Probe Further

Check out the rest of the Top 10 Tech Cars of 2010.

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