* Audi has solved range problems on electric R8 supercar
* Firm has devised blueprints of electric SUVs, saloons
* One new model could be all-electric Q8 SUV -sources
* All German carmakers have electric vehicle blueprints
(Adds request for Audi comment and background)
By Andreas Cremer
BERLIN, June 19 Audi has drawn up blueprints for
a wider range of high-performance electric cars to help it take
on German rivals and U.S. firm Tesla Motors if the
market picks up, according to sources at the carmaker.
Consumers have largely shunned battery-powered vehicles
because of their high price tags and limited driving range as
well as the scarcity of charging stations, but many analysts
predict sales will rise sharply by the end of the decade.
Tesla has managed to stay ahead of the pack with new
technology, which has extended driving range and reduced costs.
Its success and the excitement about BMW's new "i"
electric series have caught the attention of Audi, which some
analysts have said risks looking like a laggard in an industry
where innovation is a major draw for customers.
Audi, a unit of Volkswagen, is about to launch
its first purely electric car, a battery-powered version of its
R8 supercar, which is due to hit European dealerships in 2015.
It will offer a driving range of 450 km (280 miles), close to
the 502 km of Tesla's top-selling Model S luxury saloon.
Meanwhile, Audi has scaled up its electric car plans, having
devised blueprints for several high-performance electric saloons
and sport-utility vehicles, two company sources told Reuters,
asking not to be identified because the matter is confidential.
VW declined to comment. Audi did not return calls seeking
The manufacturer has shown various hybrid and purely
electric concept cars since about 2009, but the latest
blueprints stand a bigger chance of getting the nod for
production after it lately overcame range limits.
"Germany's major carmakers all have their electric car plans
ready in the drawer," Hanover-based NordLB analyst Frank Schwope
"They want to be prepared when demand accelerates," he said,
adding this could take another five to seven years.
The sources at Audi did not specify how many models were
being planned or the scale of any production plans.
They said, however, that one of the blueprints is for an
electric version of a new Q8 SUV that would pit the brand
against Tesla's forthcoming Model X.
Audi has defined a range target of about 400 km for any
future electric model it aims to develop, the sources said.
Audi's plans will be helped by steps underway to upgrade a
production platform dubbed MLB that already underpins larger
models across the VW group, such as the Audi A8 saloon and
Porsche Cayenne SUV, and would cut costs for electric cars.
Sales of electric cars are expected to surge to 2.7 million
globally by 2018 from 180,000 last year as more models come to
market, battery costs fall and the number of charging stations
grows, according to business consultancy Frost & Sullivan.
While mid-market battery cars such as the Renault
Zoe and Nissan Leaf have missed sales targets, there has been
more buoyant demand for premium offerings. Germany's three
leading luxury carmakers are all advancing on the electric
Rival BMW has launched its "i" series of electric models,
including a 34,950 euro ($47,400) city car, while Mercedes,
whose parent Daimler owns a 4.3 percent stake in
Tesla, started production in April of its B-Class electric
Tesla has devised innovations that have cut the cost and
raised the safety of battery packs. Its models also recharge
more quickly than those of rivals, thanks to its connectors,
software and efficient power management.
But the California-based company is now facing its own
challenges related to scaling up further after its success.
It said last week it would share its patents with
competitors in hopes of speeding up development of electric cars
across the industry.
Tesla executives have also met counterparts from BMW to
discuss ways to promote electric cars which analysts say must
include steps to create a common infrastructure and share the
cost of building recharging stations.
Audi's electric-car moves highlight a change of tack at VW.
In 2012 Audi shelved the R8 e-tron at request of its parent as
efforts to expand the model's driving range had stalled at only
Audi, which has since swapped R&D chiefs, has overcome the
range limits by increasing the efficiency of the electric
drivetrain and curbing on-board power consumption, development
chief Ulrich Hackenberg has said.
"Electric mobility is a key focus of our development
strategy," he said in March. "We are ideally prepared for the
future with our strategic roadmap and a well-filled development
($1 = 0.7368 Euros)
(Additional reporting by Jan Schwartz; Editing by Pravin Char
and Jane Baird)