As the Geneva auto show kicks off this week, the focus is on electric vehicles ranging from the practical to the possible and the fanciful. Two of the most notable offerings are based on the all new Volkswagen MEB dedicated electric car platform. The other is a bold, emotional concept from Kia. Let’s begin with the Audi.
Audi Q4 Compact Electric SUV
The Audi e-tron SUV is already in production but it will be joined next year by the Q4 e-tron, a compact electric SUV that will be built on the new MEB chassis developed by Volkswagen. The company says the car on display this week in Geneva provides “clues to the look of the series production Audi Q4 e-tron due by the end of 2020.”
An Audi press release emphasizes the Q4 e-tron will be small on the outside but big on the inside. With no internal combustion powertrain upfront, electric cars do offer manufacturers intriguing new packaging solutions for passengers and cargo. Note that the Q4 e-tron will be a 4-passenger vehicle.
Technical details include an 82 kWh battery, dual electric motors making a total of 300 horsepower, quattro all wheel drive, a 0-62 mph time of 6.2 seconds, and a top speed of 111 mph. Range is claimed to be 279 miles as measured by the WLTP standard. In the interior, a 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen is provided as well as full heads-up display with an augmented reality function for the driver.
The Audi press release goes on at some length to extol the virtues of the large grille that is featured prominently at the front of the Q4 e-tron. Despite all the hype surrounding it, one has to wonder why an electric car needs such an enormous appendage and the obvious answer is for branding purposes. The company needs a prominent place to display its 4-ring logo so other drivers will know instantly which automotive tribe the people inside belong to.
Volkswagen Electric Dune Buggy Concept
Way back in the car crazy 60s, Bruce Meyers ripped the body off a Volkswagen Beetle and replaced it with a one piece fiberglass tub and voila! The dune buggy was born. It never achieved the cult status of the VW microbus but it came close. Back when nobody gave a second thought about whether riding in one of these things was safe or whether tearing up the desert was really a good idea, the whispered promise of a cheap go anywhere, do anything vehicle was irresistible to many.
The thing that made the Meyers Manx possible was the skateboard architecture at the heart of the Beetle. In the days before “unibody construction” became a thing, a few people could get together on a weekend with a case of beer and few pizzas and remove the body of the Beetle from the chassis in a few hours. What was left was a platform with all the necessities for any motor vehicle — engine, transmission, wheels, and brakes. People used the lowly Beetle chassis to make racy looking sports cars. Some even made godawful imitation MG TDs out of them, complete with fake wire wheel hubcaps from the JC Whitney catalog.
Volkswagen is paying homage to the dune buggy craze this week with a whimsical design exercise based on the same MEB electric car platform that will be found under all the ID branded cars to come. It’s the same chassis that Audi will use for the Q4 e-tron. The concept has a 62 kWh lithium ion battery and a 201 horsepower electric motor in the rear, according to The Verge. WLTP range is given as 155 miles, which seems low until you realize the concept has the aerodynamic efficiency of a barn door.
USA Today says a second electric motor can be added to the front axle for more performance, but whether this bit of whimsy will ever see production is an open question. The concept is probably more about building some excitement for the ID brand which is scheduled to begin production of its first vehicle, a 5-door hatchback similar to the hugely popular VW Golf later this year.
The Kia Imagine Concept Is A Stunner
If the Audi Q4 is humdrum and the Volkswagen electric dune buggy is fanciful, the Imagine concept that Kia brought to Geneva this year is a glimpse of what actual production electric cars from the company might look like. If this is the future, bring it on! While most mainstream automakers are busy putting out press releases about what they are going to do to transition to electric car production, Kia and corporate cousin Hyundai are walking the walk.
“Automotive design is about capturing the heart and making it beat that bit faster for that bit longer,” Gregory Guillaume, vice president of design for Kia Motors Europe tells Motor 1. “We believe that there’s absolutely no reason why that should change simply because the car is electric. That’s why our all-electric concept is designed to not only get your pulse racing, but to also signpost our holistic and emotional approach to electrification.”
“Today’s drivers understandably have many questions about electric cars. They’re concerned about range, the recharging network and whether electric cars will still be dynamic and engaging to drive. So, when we first started thinking about this concept and imagining what its role would be, we knew that the best way to answer those questions and address those concerns was by approaching electrification purely from an emotional point of view.”
“When they talk about their electric cars, many car makers promote the same rational and empirical data driven messages as they do with their internal combustion engined cars, such as range, economy and performance criteria,” Guillaume explains. “Kia prides itself on its power to surprise, which is why we wanted to move away from the rational and focus on the emotional, and embrace a warmer and more human approach to electrification.”
Notice the one-piece windshield and roof. Yes, Tesla introduced the idea with the Model X, but Kia is the first traditional manufacturer to incorporate it into its own thinking. The concept also features rear doors hinged at the back. This “coach door” approach has become a staple of the concept car universe of late but real world safety considerations always get in the way when it comes time to manufacture cars. It would be marvelous if Kia could be the first to translate this idea into actual production automobiles.
The 21 touchscreens that span the full width of the dashboard in the Imagine concept are pure whimsy meant to troll the rest of the industry. Ralph Klug, head of interior design for Kia Europe, tells CNET Road Show, “These 21 incredibly thin screens are a humorous and irreverent riposte to the ongoing competition between some automotive manufacturers to see who can produce the car with the biggest screen.”
The Imagine concept may not be intended for production, but if it hints at what future electric cars from Kia (and Hyundai) will be like, let the EV revolution begin!
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