Sitting here in September 2021, the end of internal combustion engines in new cars seems far away, but, as the iconic warning in passenger side mirrors make clear, ‘objects in the mirror are closer than they appear’.
This impression really hit home during a recent virtual Audi press conference I attended in the run-up to the recent German motor show, the IAA (International Automobile Exhibition), which was staged in Munich.
The thrust of this presser focused on Audi’s plans for achieving carbon-neutral mobility, and its goal of becoming a net-zero carbon emitter by no later than 2050. OK fine, I thought. Other manufacturers have made similar pronouncements, and some have plans to get there even sooner, like General Motors by 2040, for instance.
It doesn’t sound all that ambitious on its face, as nearly three decades is more than a generation. But then Audi executives started speaking about steps that will be taken in the near term, and those milestones are not far away at all.
For instance, 2025 will mark the introduction of the last new Audi vehicle with an internal combustion engine, which means that starting in 2026, every new model introduced will be fully electrified. As for the remaining gas-powered models in the lineup, their production will be phased out by 2033.
By 2025, Audi plans to have more than 20 battery electric vehicles (BEVs) in its lineup, which the company says will lower the carbon footprint of its fleet by 30 per cent compared with its 2015 model range.
And it’s not just that will be cleaner, but the plants that produce them as well. Audi plans to have production at all manufacturing sites achieve carbon neutral status by 2025, and two of its European facilities (Belgium and Hungary) have already hit that milestone.
A big factor in the greening of its facilities, Audi says, is tackling carbon emissions that are generated by its supply chain, particularly those that involve energy-intensive production that are used to make lithium-ion batteries for electric cars. The company says that these activities are responsible for almost one quarter of emissions per car produced by Audi.
Mitigation efforts include a general focus on reduced energy consumption and intelligent use of resources, but Audi has taken other sustainable efforts that emphasize the use of recycled materials. In 2018, the company began its CO₂ Program in the Supply Chain which, as the name suggests, is designed to find carbon reduction opportunities in its supply chain.
Audi says that more components made from secondary and recycled materials, such as plastic, that utilize green electricity will play big roles in reducing carbon emissions in its manufacturing and supply chain processes. The company plans fully implement these initiatives by 2025, which it estimates could save an average of 1.2 tons of CO₂ per car. Audi noted that it saved over 335,000 tons of CO₂ in its supply chain in 2020, which is a reduction of 35,000 tons of CO₂ released compared to 2019.
Other efforts to reduce waste include an innovative aluminum recycling program whereby Audi sends scrap back to its supplier for processing which is then returned to the automaker in the form of aluminum coils, which reduces demand for fresh aluminum. Audi calls this effort its “Aluminum Closed Loop” which, after being implemented at its German press plant in 2020, saved roughly 165,000 tons of CO₂ emissions. It is now being implemented at assembly plants in Germany (two) and Hungary.
Recycled materials are also being used to make sound insulation and damping materials, along with interior trim components such as floor coverings and luggage compartment panels. For models with S line interiors, the sport seats are made of Dinamica microfibre and artificial leather. Dinamica is composed of 45 per cent polyester fibre, which is in turn made from recycled plastic bottles, old textiles and residual fibres.
The all-new e-tron GT battery electric has carpeting and floor mats made from Econyl, a material that is made exclusively from recycled nylon fibres. Audi sources Econyl from old fishing nets, carpet scraps and other production waste. As for the reuse of plastics, the company notes that the seats in each fourth generation A3 subcompact sedan contain roughly 45 recycled 1.5-litre plastic bottles.
Audi is also a part of the Volkswagen Group’s Code of Conduct for Business Partners which has established sustainability requirements for companies the Group does business with including reporting and compliance guidelines along with monitoring and enforcement. Since 2019, partners that are awarded Audi contracts must maintain an ‘S’ rating and the company will only work with those that pass this audit.
These are all worthy initiatives and there are many others, such as reducing the amount of energy used at manufacturing sites and using more power from renewables, but the one idea that really caught my eye during the presentation is the charging hub. Apart from its utility, I think it just looks cool.
Basically, this concept is a pod of charging stations with a lounge area tacked on top. Audi says the space can be used for business appointments or entertaining. As for the charging stations, they’re composed of flexible cubes with charging pillars along with lithium-ion batteries for storage.
The set-up is modular, so it’s transportable and, with a 200kW input the three storage modules can hold 2.45 Megawatt-hours of juice. Per day, 70 quick charges with up to 300 kW of power is possible, according to Audi. The first charging hub will begin operating this fall in Nuremberg with others to follow, hopefully.
After the presentation wrapped up, I was left with two thoughts. One, Audi’s electrification plans as a company-wide effort are among the most ambitious and innovative I’ve seen to date. Two, those intent on picking up an RS 6 Avant might not want to wait too much longer.