Clarifying Audi's powertrain plans for the 2009 A4

In my write-up on driving Audi's new A4 3.0 TDI the other day, there were some comments on why Audi would choose to offer the 3.0L V-6 diesel. The fact is that Audi actually offers an array of six different engines and four transmissions in various combinations. With gasoline engines of 1.8L, 2.0L and 3.2L or diesels of 2.0L, 2.7L and 3.0L European buyers get plenty of choice. They also get to choose among six speed automatic or manual transmissions, a seven speed dual clutch gearbox or a CVT. Here in the U.S., not so much. The combination of America's aversion to diesel or small engines in luxury cars and highly unfavorable exchange rates means that Audi is simplifying their product lineup to keep costs down. That's why we won't be getting the 1.8L engine or any of the diesels.

At the U.S. launch this September, the new A4 will only have the 2.0L and 3.2L gas engines available and only the 2.0L engine will be available with a manual transmission. The four cylinder manual combo will only be offered in the sedan. The Avant wagon will only be available with the 2.0L automatic transmission Quattro setup. Audi has been working on a hybrid system that was shown in Detroit last January. However according to Audi's Udo Rügheimer the company is not satisfied with the performance of current nickel metal hydride batteries.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
They perform poorly in cold weather, providing very little power and minimal electric drive capability. Only when lithium ion batteries are ready do they plan to launch a hybrid. Rügheimer explained that Audi wants the performance of their cars to be consistent and current hybrid technology doesn't achieve that. When the battery is cold or has run down, the car looses acceleration performance. If the driver pulls out to pass someone and is expecting the extra boost from the electric motor, they may not have it. For now they prefer diesel power that behaves more predictably under all conditions. Although Audi expects diesels to reach 10-15% of the light duty vehicle market in the US in the next few years they aren't prepared to commit too heavily just yet.

Audi Executive VP Johan de Nysschen explained that the company would start with the Q7 TDI late this year and then watch how the US diesel market develops before proceeding. Clearly the price of diesel fuel relative to gasoline in the US will play a part in deciding whether to expand their US diesel offerings as will the value of the US dollar. With the dollar so weak right now, it's hard for European automakers to sell lower end cars here right now. A higher priced premium car can make money, but Americans want more performance for their money. That means an A4 with the smaller 2.0L diesel would be unlikely to command a price that would be profitable for Audi. If Audi does choose to offer a diesel A4 to American drivers, it will likely be the 3.0L TDI Quattro with an automatic transmission. It all comes down to business. Audi wants to make money, and until there is evidence that customers are willing to buy a product at a price that will be profitable it won't be offered. If Americans start snapping up the diesels that appear from VW, Audi, Mercedes and BMW starting this fall, we can expect to see more of them. If not, well we had our chance.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

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