back to article The STEALTH Plug-in Hybrid: Audi A3 e-tron Sportback

It would have been difficult for Audi to launch an electric car differentiated more from BMW's. Whilst the BMW i3 has been styled and engineered to look and perform like something from another planet, the new A3 e-tron most definitely has not. Audi A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid car Bar the stickers, the e-tron looks like any …

  1. jake Silver badge

    What happens to the grid ...

    ... when a large percentage of the population plugs their cars in?

    To say nothing of the fact that the so-called "green" energy that recharges them is almost always fossil-fuel derived?

    There is no such thing as "renewable energy". In the game of entropy, we are all losers.

    1. Ashton Black

      Re: What happens to the grid ...

      Well.... See, on a national scale, it depends on the make up of your power generation system, obviously.

      In China/India/US, for example, where electricity is generated primarily with coal, then, these are no better than using petrol cars (equiv to 25-35 MPG) with an average of 200g-300g+ CO2e/km (equivalent carbon dioxide per vehicle kilometer)

      Compare this to, say, Paraguay, at 70g CO2e/km or Canada at 115g CO2e/km.

      To answer your question, if all of the UK went electrical cars, with our current grid, it would be as if, we all started using petrol/hybrid cars now, an increase of 20-30 MPG equivalent.

      These figures, do include the 20-30% increase in manufacturing costs and lower lifetime of the cars.

      Anyway, here's the report where I got these figures

      http://shrinkthatfootprint.com/electric-car-emissions

      1. jake Silver badge

        @ Ashton Black (was: Re: What happens to the grid ...)

        You've avoided the obvious.

        We already have rotating brownouts. The local grid will fail if a large percentage of the population uses said "green" plug-in transportation.

        Battery powered transportation simply doesn't scale.

        Fuck CO2, that's a red herring. H2O is a far worse greenhouse gas. Don't believe me? Try running a CO2 scrubber in a greenhouse[1]. Take note of temperature. Then run a desiccator, take note of temperature. The high H2O/low CO2 environment will be much hotter than the high CO2/low H2O.

        [1] To say nothing of the fact that CO2 is plant food ... and H2O contributes to rotting.

    2. John Miles

      Re: What happens to the grid ...

      with the fire at Didcot Power Station and continued erosion spare capacity margins it is likely the lights would go out in Winter unless lots more money is spent on new power stations/sources

    3. ThomH Silver badge

      Re: What happens to the grid ...

      In the worst case what happens is: no benefit for the environment. But it buys the ability for the environmental problem to be fixed centrally. So if cold fusion were discovered tomorrow then they could just plug a couple of those into the grid. Or maybe they'll come around to the idea that new fission stations are the thing environmentally? Renewables don't exactly have a lock on being a better solution if we're optimising for that.

    4. Peter Richardson

      Re: What happens to the grid ...

      One of the things that happen when people switch to using electricity as a road fuel is that less electricity is used to refine oil into petrol and diesel.

      I'm loathe to quote numbers here because this is a contentious issue, but some folks (possibly biased) claim that as much as 2 kWh of electricity is required to refine just 1 litre of fuel. You might want to take that with a pinch of salt, but clearly energy is used in the refining process, and that could be used to power EVs directly.

      It may not solve the problem entirely, and it would be naive to suggest that an EV uses less electricity to travel distance X than the energy cost of refining oil for a diesel car to travel distance X (and some people do claim this - not me), but obviously there are savings to be had by not digging oil out of the ground (modern techniques can rely on energy heavy methods to extract the oil, e.g. fracking), transporting it to refineries, refining it into road fuel and transporting the end product to garages all over the country.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What happens to the grid ...

        "2 kWh of electricity is required to refine just 1 litre of fuel."

        That means they're selling jet fuel at a substantial loss.

        1. Peter Richardson

          Re: What happens to the grid ...

          I did say take it with a pinch of salt! :)

          But I would say, be careful here - you're talking about aviation fuel, not petrol or diesel - different fractions of the refining process. I'm no expert, but my understanding is that aviation fuel is cheaper to make, therefore uses less energy refining. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

          What (perhaps) could be more helpful is to see how much electricity is used for a whole barrel of crude and then break that down into the distilled fractions. TBH, I'm struggling to find that number and would love to see it if you have it.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: What happens to the grid ...

            "understanding is that aviation fuel is cheaper to make"

            aviation kerosene is very similar to diesel. "Jet fuel is very similar to diesel fuel, and in some cases, may be burned in diesel engines" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jet_fuel

            The point is that 2kWh of electricity costs ~~20p yet current prices for aviation kerosene is ~~30p/L which is quite close to crude price. This suggests that 2kWh of electricity cannot be a reasonable estimate for the processing energy cost. In fact it suggests that the transport & refining costs for the fuels are rather low.

    5. Alan Edwards

      Re: What happens to the grid ...

      > What happens to the grid when a large percentage of the population plugs their cars in?

      If Robert Llewelyn is to be believed, it will be happier.

      People charge their electric cars overnight, when they are asleep (i.e. not using the car) and power is cheaper because no-one is using it.

      More use overnight will even out the peaks and troughs of demand and avoid having to start and stop generating stations.

  2. Mark Wilson

    The Eco Option?

    So despite all this clever stuff, this small car still gets worse economy the my 2.2l large family hatchback and whilst I can't comment on this Audi, when I had a Prius as a loan car, the performance was so poor, you ended up flooring the thing everytime you wanted to accelerate even in an urban environment, unlike my car which I barely need to give any throttle to get me up to speed in a reasonable time that won't have a queue of frustrated drivers behind me sounding their horns.

    1. Graham 24

      Re: The Eco Option?

      Overall "ecology" is always arguable, since it depends (as posted elsewhere in the comments) on how the electricity to charge the batteries is obtained.

      However, a key point for electric vehicles is not overall fuel economy or even overall CO2 emissions. It's emissions at point of use. Your 2.2L hatchback driving in an urban environment is pushing out some nasty stuff (and if it's a diesel, some *very* nasty stuff in the immediate vicinity of people - there's a reason Paris is banning diesels from 2020). Petrol cars aren't perfect either, of course, but better for the immediate environment than diesels. Electric cars are *much* better than either for the people who have to walk down the pavement next to the road you're driving on.

  3. Christopher Edwards

    Sigh, keep up..,

    Around 1/3 of grid power is non-fossil fuel and even if it were 100% fossil fuel an electric car would use half the carbon, and cost less than half the amount to run because the horribly inefficient internal combustion engine is so much worse at doing it's job than a fossil fuel generator, even if you include transmission losses.

    As for the grid if and when more cars are in use this can easily dealt with, since cars spend most of the time sitting around the smart chargers can change the rate of charge in line with load on the grid and even availability of generation capacity, especially useful for sources such as wind that vary in availability.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Mackay (SEWTHA) probably has more info

      Nice answer.

      Mackay's free book (Sustainable Energy Without The Hot Air) probably has more info; those who want more can find it the usual way (the book is on the interwebz, in full).

      [Yes he's not perfect but he's usually a good place to start]

    2. The Axe

      1/3 of the grid might be non-fossil on good days, on bad days, it'll be 0%. Today its only 15% as gridwatch* shows. Renewable is to variable to of any use. And to wasteful of space to be useful too. The UK currently has just over 4000 wind turbines and the spoil the countryside everywhere you look. Imagine the numbers going up to 75,000. And you can't say that solar would cut the number down as we would need both enough solar to power the whole country and enough wind to power the whole country for the days when one isn't powering.

      https://carboncounter.wordpress.com/2013/01/02/how-many-wind-turbines-would-it-take-to-power-the-uk/

      Me, I like to use my car when I want and not be denied its use just because there wasn't enough solar or wind power to charge it.

      * http://www.gridwatch.templar.co.uk/

      1. Steve Todd

        EV charging is a good way to soak up unused off-peak capacity and power from renewables. The power packs are also good for stabilising domestic power and providing backup when they reach the end of their useful life in a car. We could switch about 1/3 of the vehicles on the road to electric with no changes to the current infrastructure.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        What gridwatch really says...

        Wtf?

        Gridwatch currently shows 8GW from UK nuclear. It usually does, 24x7x365 (OK sometimes it goes down a GW or three, if a station or two is offline for some reason).

        Gridwatch also shows that almost all of the time we import 2GW or so of nuclear electricity from France, and another GW or so from the Dutch.

        Say maybe 10GW from non-fossil, sometimes more, rarely less. Say a quarter of capacity, even before considering unreliable wind.

        It's highly unlikely it ever gets anywhere near the zero% you claim.

        Put another way, the UK has a *peak* electricity capacity problem. Usually there's plenty of capacity at night, hence off peak tariffs still being available, Charging your eV overnight makes sense for multiple reasons.

        Using your eV to feed power back into the grid (or just locally) also makes sense in some circumstances although it's not directly possible to do so with today's vehicles.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why does every ev need its own charging cable?

    Nice writeup of what sounds like an interesting vehicle.

    Generic question: why does every ev need to carry its own charging cable?

    If I drive a fossil fuel vehicle I don't need to carry around a flexipipe to go between the vehicle and the filling station pump.

    So why, in the case of electric vehicles, isn't the flexipipe/charge cable attached to the charging station, rather than being carried around in the boot of the car? Obviously that requires a standardised electric connection at the vehicle end of the flexipipe, but I thought work on that subject had already been done (ICBW).

    I want my bootspace, and I want it NOW, and I'm surprisingly close to wanting one of these, not that I could ever afford one.

    On the other hand, given the below-par experience I've personally had to date with software-controlled mechanics (Skoda DSG, till it was fixed, had a tendency to spontaneously drop into neutral), and the general quality of safety-critical embedded software demonstrated in Toyota vs Barr in the uncommanded acceleration court case in the US, I do hope this VAG product is in a different class.

    EE Times, Toyota vs Barr: http://www.eetimes.com/document.asp?doc_id=1319952

    1. Graham 24

      Re: Why does every ev need its own charging cable?

      Probably because without the cable, you can't simply get home and charge the car using that 13A socket on the garage wall. Even if you install a dedicated charging point at home with the correct cable, what do you do when you go to visit someone and need to charge up before driving home again? If they only have normal domestic sockets, you're going to need the cable.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Why does every ev need its own charging cable?

        "what do you do when you go to visit someone and need to charge up before driving home again?"

        If they had an EV I'd use their charger?

        The local high street has EV charging points, which could have their own cables.

        The local recently built supermarket (Asda, fwiw) has EV charging point, which could have their own cables.

        Employers could provider EV charging points if they wanted to be perceived as 'green'.

        Etc.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why does every ev need its own charging cable?

      My question is why you'd take along a charge cable *at all*.

      If I had one of these I'd make it charge at home, but otherwise use the electrical part to recover energy via regenerative braking and mainly run it in mixed mode. This means that I'll have low cost domestic use, but fairly normal long distance use - I exactly like hybrids because you can still get home after the battery is low. OK, if I visited another place often (like my office) I'd have a cable there too, but that's about it.

      I can only see me take along the charge cable for a long trek where I would not be returning home for a while.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why does every ev need its own charging cable?

      I have an Outlander PHEV and it comes with a domestic charging cable for a 13amp socket which is where I charge it most of the time. Its not particularity big and there is a box under the boot to store it.

      The annoying thing is the high capacity cables are a touch over £100 and you sometimes need one to charge at public points - but not always. A council carpark in Morthpeth has the cables attached to the charging unit - all 3 different types but my local multistory has just installed 12 EV bays with no cables - and for the number of times I visit my ROI on the cable would be something like 2 years. What the government should have done is insisted that car manufactures provide both cables if they want the £5K.

  5. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

    This Audi is causing some amusement in France

    étron is French for "turd".

    1. MrT

      Re: This Audi is causing some amusement in France

      Ah, like that popular Toyota 2-seat mid-engined sports car... but at least Toyota could just drop the '2' - what are the options for Audi? 'Tron'? Or back to the full 'Electron'?

      1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

        Re: This Audi is causing some amusement in France

        Ah, like that popular Toyota 2-seat mid-engined sports car

        And the putative Rolls-Royce Silver Mist, allegedly renamed after the Germans got wind of it (so to speak).

      2. MrCreasy

        Re: This Audi is causing some amusement in France

        Or the Mitsubishi Pajero, which they marketed under a different name in LatAm and Spain, as 'Pajero' is basically spanish for wanker.

        I have seen a couple of imported versions rolling around in Spain though, and no doubt it causes all sorts of laughs.

  6. Simon Rockman

    Electric charging is a mess of standards.

    The is the connector on the Golf I reviewed: http://regmedia.co.uk/2014/08/05/e-golf_charging_socket.jpg The extra two pins are DC, while the to is AC.

    The C-Zero has this - http://regmedia.co.uk/2014/05/30/citroen_c-zero_30_amp_charging.jpg and another one I didn't upload the picture for.

    The Tesla superchargers *do* have captive cables, but they only plug into Teslas.

    The Source London posts are either 3kW or 3kW and 7kW, and it the latter case they have two sockets for the different power levels.

    So you need at least two cables. The 3kW/13A chargers use a standard 3 pin plug which is put into the charging post and the lid shut to hold the plug in place and to stop anyone having a laugh and unplugging it. The flap can only be opened with a contactless card. Unfortunately this means that anyone visiting from abroad (and I met a Swiss Tesla owner pulling into a Supercharger this week) will have to get a cable with a Britsih 3 pin plug to use most of the source London chargers.

    That is if they can find one both free and working. A look at https://www.sourcelondon.net/stations shows that a good proportion are out of service and most of those that are working are in expensive car parks. A 3 hour charge will cost you £18 in an NCP.

    Simon.

  7. 2+2=5 Silver badge

    They've made the same charger cable FAIL as Vauxhall and BMW...

    If you install a charge point at home then you're more or less okay. If you charge only at public charge points then you're also more or less okay. But if you charge from a standard household supply (because you're renting the car, for example) it's a complete FAIL.

    Why? For far too many reasons for such a simple thing as a cable…

    They give you a few meters of thick, unwieldy cable with an expensive transformer built into one end of it. Just a few meters is guaranteed to be too short to reach from the car to inside your house / garage where the nearest power socket is. So you’ll end up with a household extension cable running out to the side of the car, with the charge cable plugged into that. Note that this is all outside and therefore lying on the ground in the rain and mud, meaning you’ll need a garden-style, waterproof extension to be safe. (Let's hope the transformer bit in the charge cable has been made waterproof.) The second problem with the charge cable being outside like this is that it is trivially stolen as there is no way to secure the cable to the vehicle. (And something tells me that they won’t be cheap to replace.) Even if the supplied cable does reach from an inside socket to the vehicle without requiring an extension, being stiff and thick, it won't be the easiest thing to pass out through an open window, and no hope of squeezing underneath a door so you'll have to leave the door open while charging.

    Wouldn’t it be simpler if Audi…

    a) fitted the fast-charge socket at the front, as at present, with the expectation that you use the cable from a public charge point or have a charge point installed at home. (And even if you still need to carry a cable just in case, it need only be a simple cable - no built-in transformer required.)

    *AND*

    b) had a foot-long length of household flex coming out of the floor of the boot with a standard 2-pin / 3-pin household plug on it? That way, when you charge from a standard household supply, you just unreel your household extension cable; leave the reel in the boot of the car; plug the car into it (the transformer unit is built into the car); and a small channel in the boot sill ensures the cable isn’t trapped so you can lock the car while charging, preventing “your hilarious friends” from unplugging it when you’re not looking.

    Okay, so the cable is still lying on the ground in the rain and mud, and you'll still need to wipe it clean as you put it away, but at least the socket is in the dry in the boot.

    1. 2+2=5 Silver badge

      Re: They've made the same charger cable FAIL as Vauxhall and BMW...

      And just checking the price of a replacement cable... £395 + VAT

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: They've made the same charger cable FAIL as Vauxhall and BMW...

      If they engineered it right, you could also use the cable reel to start the engine if the start motor fails, a bit like a grass mower.

      Joking aside, the lack of lockability (sorry for butchering English) is also my concern. If we have people that seem to manage to cut away live cables for the copper, taking away a charger cable is not going to be *that* much a challenge either. There's also the dumb user problem (I loved the statement about the IQ of the gearbox in this context): is there a facility that stops the car from moving off unless it's unplugged? In that respect, having the socket in the nose is actually a good move because you can at least the electricity meter fly by when you leave without unplugging :)

      1. Graham 24

        Re: They've made the same charger cable FAIL as Vauxhall and BMW...

        I think at the moment these cars are only suitable for those that have secure access to charging points (domestic garage building, patrolled/monitored work car park etc.) I really can't see how it would be practical for someone who, for example, only has on-street parking and drives to the railway station as part of a daily commute, which is a real shame, because the "short journey within a town" is exactly the scenario the vehicle itself is ideal for.

        As for driving off while plugged in, they have an interlock that prevents any vehicle movement if the cable is physically connected, whether it's charging or not.

        1. Christopher Lane
          Coat

          Re: They've made the same charger cable FAIL as Vauxhall and BMW...

          ...and if you live in a block of flats that's one hell of a long extension cable!

          Seriously though, what percentage of car are parked at home on a drive as opposed to the public highway? Some serious legislation is going to have to be written to allow for sockets/trailing cables/floor boxes (can you imagine trying to IP67 that AND stop one of the boys from the black stuff tarmacking over your box lid?)/allocating parking outside YOUR house to access YOUR socket etc. True EV well never take hold until these issues are resolved.

          AND ANOTHER THING!!!

          Why hasn't anybody thought of making the roof covered with a solar panel to trickle charge the car during the day? I jest ;-)

  8. GeezaGaz

    or just buy an efficient diesel?

    "The consumption figures came back as 29.5, 37.5 and 63.5mpg respectively."

    But a 320d efficient dynamics can manage 68mpg, is cheaper, has more torque and costs less???

    1. StephenD

      Re: or just buy an efficient diesel?

      From the article:

      "The official NEDC consumption figure for the A3 is 176.6mpg but as with all plug-in hybrids that figure depends entirely on how much driving you do using just the electrical charge harvested from the mains. Charge the thing every day and never drive more than 30 miles between charges and you’ll never use a drop of unleaded."

      The figures quoted were for a car "being driven with gusto along hilly, switchback A and B roads in the wilds of Northumberland", in two of the cases not in a mode intended to promote economy.

  9. CAPS LOCK Silver badge

    It's very nice, but I don't think I could bring myself to buy an Audi.

    I wouldn't want to be associated with Audi drivers. I'm sure there are some good ones, but...

  10. Peter Richardson

    Sounds good...

    ...but I'm not sure I'd like to own one out of warranty. A plug-in Prius is not as quick and may be no more efficient (maybe), but one thing is for sure, this Audi is a complex beast. The Prius has no flywheel, no clutch, no real gearbox to speak of and no turbocharger. All of those items can break with four figure bills, and the DSG gearbox in particular can be an issue with VAG cars - although some versions do seem better than others.

    I'd definitely have this Audi as a company car, but out of warranty as a second hand buy? Not with my money, thanks.

  11. Dr_N Silver badge

    I'll wait for the Skoda or SEAT versions...

    Cheaper, and I won't feel the need to sit it 6 inches off the bumper of the car in front.

  12. Nick Woodruffe

    No mention of the Mitsubishi PHEV in your article

    The Mitsubishi PHEV is a similar vehicle as it is also based on the same Hybrid class of 30 miles range as the Audi. I'm surprised it wasn't mentioned in the article along with BMW and Volvo considering the Mitsubishi has been available to buy for six months.

    I'm slightly biased as I own one and yes it is damn good so long as you spend most of your time with 30 mile or less journeys. I particularly like parking at the motorway services to get my free rapid charge (80% capacity) although that coffee and doughnut you buy will wipe out the saving in petrol.

    Unlike a Prius it has plenty of power and I treat it no different than any petrol or diesel I have driven. I do however enjoy the quieter journeys and the much smoother ride.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No mention of the Mitsubishi PHEV in your article

      I have one as well and yes its a good car and cheap to lease but why oh why don't they supply it with a high capacity cable as standard.

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