Fuel-cell Engines

Technology Turf Wars at Volkswagen

audi fuel cell-ap
Audi's chairman Rupert Stadler (left to right), German President Joachim Gauck, King Philippe-Filip and Queen Mathilde of Belgium, and Gauck's partner Daniela Schadt pose beside the new Audi Q6 E Tron prototype at the Audi automobile plant in Vorst-Forest.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    After its diesel emissions scandal, VW is cutting its research and development budget by €1 billion, while its subsidiary Audi intends to keep R&D spending more or less stable.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Audi engineers were the first in the VW Group to present a production-ready, electric sport-utility vehicle, slated to be marketed in 2018 as the Q6-etron.
    • Last September, Audi presented a working model of the Q6-etron concept at the International Motor Show in Frankfurt.
    • The vehicle can reach 100 km/h, or 62.1 mph, in in 4.6 seconds. Its lithium-ion battery is designed to travel more than 500 kilometers (310 miles) on a charge.
  • Audio

    Audio

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Volkswagen’s management board has decided that its premium-car subsidiary Audi will take over development of fuel-cell technology for all VW subsidiaries, Handelsblatt has learned.

Sources inside VW confirmed that work would be concentrated in Neckarsulm in Baden-Württemberg, where more than 1,700 Audi engineers are already developing the technology.

The news emerged Monday as Volkswagen’s supervisory board met to discuss possible layoffs following the diesel-emissions scandal at Europe’s largest automaker.

As losses mount, infighting over necessary retrenchments and cost-cutting grows fiercer with each passing day. Now with Ingolstadt-based Audi taking over fuel-cell technology for the group, the climate won’t be any friendlier at VW.

Fuel-cell batteries are considered one of the keys for engines of the future. Global market leader Toyota is giving this technology precedence over purely battery-driven vehicles.

In addition to electric batteries, fuel-cell batteries are considered one of the key energy sources for engines of the future. Global market leader Toyota has already given the technology precedence over purely battery-driven vehicles.

Volkswagen, like the rest of the German automotive industry, has much catching up to do in this area. Since the emissions scandal, the company has been giving its overall engine strategy serious thought. Chief Executive Matthias Müller said he now intends to invest billions in the development of alternative engines.

The decision in favor of Audi will spark concern at the Volkswagen brand, especially among workers. The labor union IG Metall has been fighting to maintain developmental capabilities at the main plant in Lower Saxony.

Future work on fuel cells is important for the German economy, which is heavily dependent on auto manufacturing. The suppliers of automotive components in the country would also have to make the transition to electric motors. Local production of electric motors would be one possibility for assuring employment.

But Audi appears to have plans of its own. Engineers at the Ingolstadt plant were the first in the VW Group to present a production-ready, entirely electric sport utility vehicle, slated to be marketed in 2018 as the Q6-etron. The SUV reportedly will come with alternative powertrains, including not only a fully battery-electric version but also later a plug-in hybrid and possibly a hydrogen-fueled model as well.

That technology could also be taken over by Porsche and Volkswagen. Audi’s concept, however, involves production of both electric motors and batteries by suppliers. This isn’t a division of labor that favors the employment-intensive system in Wolfsburg.

The heavier the burden of the diesel affair, the tougher the turf wars will become at Volkswagen. After the core Volkswagen brand, Audi has the biggest budget for research and development in the group. While VW is cutting its R&D budget by €1 billion ($1.1 billion), Audi intends to keep spending more or less stable in this area.

In a recent interview with Handelsblatt, Audi’s Chief Executive Rupert Stadler acknowledged that Audi would also make cuts to cushion the impact of the diesel affair.

But he emphasized: “Nobody’s going to get me to harm the product and technology along with future revenues and results.”

Last September, Audi presented a working model of its Q6-etron SUV concept at the International Motor Show in Frankfurt.

The car is powered by three electric motors — one drives the front axle, and the other two turn the back axle. Together, they provide up to 370 kilowatts of power (505 hp) and more than 800 newton meters of torque (590 lb/ft).

It can reach 100 km/h, or 62.1 mph, in 4.6 seconds. The maximum-speed limiter kicks in at 210 km/h (130 mph).

The lithium-ion battery is integrated into the floor of the passenger compartment and creates a low center of gravity. Fully loaded, the 95 kw/h battery should allow the car to travel more than 500 kilometers (310 miles) on a charge.

The Q6-etron concept can be charged with either direct or alternating current. With direct current, it can be completely charged in about 50 minutes.

Moveable aerodynamic elements on the hood, sides and rear end modulate the air flow starting at 80 km/h. In spite of the sloping roof, there is room for four passengers.

In technical terms, the Q6-etron is Audi’s first electric car. Work was halted on an earlier project to produce an electric R8.

 

Markus Fasse covers the aviation and auto sectors. To contact the author: fasse@handelsblatt.com

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