As the world careens toward the final reckoning — brought on in part by the human imperative to drive the biggest, baddest, most brutal cars imaginable — everyone and their cousin wants a Mad Max type vehicle to haul them up mountains and across raging rivers to escape the carnage happening in their wake. Audi has looked around its corporate garage and decided it doesn’t have any rugged electric vehicles like the Land Rover Defender and Mercedes G Class it can offer to loyal customers who want to ride an electric car into then apocalypse.
Ecce Audi Uberwagen!
Autocar has the exclusive on the as yet unnamed rugged off-roader. It spoke recently to Audi designer Marc Lichte who hinted that such a battery-electric vehicle is under development with a target release date of 2027 and that it is part of a strategic push into new segments facilitated by new partnerships and platforms. Licte said the new überwagen will not be based on the PPE architecture Audi has developed in conjunction with Porsche for use across its core EV lineup. Nor will it use the Ford Ranger-derived underpinnings which are scheduled to provide the basis for an electric Volkswagen 4×4 SUV in the coming years.
Instead, Lichte said the new car will ride on a platform taken from elsewhere in the VW Group portfolio. Because the upcoming SSP platform has been delayed until at least 2028, it is highly likely that Audi will look to the nascent Scout brand to provide the chassis. Now here’s where it gets interesting. Back at the dawn of the SUV era, all those vehicles were built on a truck chassis with a ladder frame. The original Ford Explorer was a Ranger with an enclosed body. The Expedition was based on the F-150.
At first, customers complained their SUVs rode too harshly. Goodyear and Firestone went to great lengths to build tires that could handle the weight of those vehicles but give a softer ride. Eventually, the industry transitioned from truck-based frames to unibody vehicles that had the dimensions of an SUV, but offered the tender tushies of SUV buyers the refined ride they were used to in their Buicks and Cadillacs.
Now we have come full circle back to ladder frames again. They may not ride like a pillow, but they sure are rugged and that is exactly what the new Scout pickup truck and SUV are offering — vehicles that mimic the bone-crushing ride of the original Scout from International Harvester. Rugged you want, rugged you’re gonna get.
According to Autocar, the initial plans called for Audi to build its Scout-based models in the same new US factory where the Scout was manufactured, but those plans have been cancelled, Autocar says there is the potential that Audi could borrow the chassis from Scout and build its own cars close to home in Ingolstadt.
Audi is already collaborating with Magna on development of batteries and electronics for Scout EVs, and the VW Group board is said to be leaning towards giving Magna the contract to build the Scout cars with room on the production line for an Audi-badged product. The suggestion is that Magna could build 50,000 Audi 4x4s per year — a significant number that would indicate plans for launch in various global markets outside the US — alongside 100,000 Scout cars. Interestingly enough, Magna also builds the Mercedes G Class in Austria.
“I think there is space” for a rugged SUV in Audi’s passenger car lineup, Lichte said. “There is potential because there are only two premium players” in this particular segment — Mercedes and Land Rover — “and I think there is a space for a third one.”
The Audi activesphere Debuts
You want weird? Audi’s got all the weird anyone could ask for with its activesphere concept. Here’s how Audi describes it in a press release.
“The Audi activesphere concept marks the culmination of sphere concept vehicles. Following on from the Audi skysphere roadster in 2021, and the grandsphere saloon and urbansphere concept in April 2022, a four-door crossover coupé with an astonishingly versatile body design is now making its debut.
“Standing 4.98 meters long, the highly elegant car is more than a mere luxury class sports car with impressive ground clearance and large 22 inch wheels announcing its off road talent. The Sportback rear of the activesphere can turn into an open cargo bed at the touch of a button — perfect for carrying recreational equipment such as e-bikes or water and winter sports gear.”
“By combining opposites in perfect synthesis, the Audi activesphere proves to be a versatile crosser of boundaries, with a drive system and suspension which make it equally adept both on and off the road. The steering wheel and pedals allow the driver to actively control the car, while also offering autonomous driving for a more relaxed time on the road. As a coupé that is as elegant as it is dynamic, it features classic proportions and lines, but in just a few seconds, the car transforms into a pickup for transporting top class sports gear.
“The concept car was conceived and designed at the Audi Design Studio in Malibu, just a stone’s throw away from the Pacific Coast Highway. Studio manager Gael Buzyn and his team are the creative minds behind the project.”
“With electric drive and quick charging technology from Audi’s PPE modular system, the Audi activesphere joins the sphere family of concept vehicles. With no local emissions, a range of over 372 miles, and extremely fast charging times thanks to 800-volt technology, it combines the sustainability, dynamics and long distance capability of state of the art electric vehicles. The autonomous chauffeuring capability on suitable terrain gives drivers and passengers a new level of freedom, which, thanks to the new display and operating technology, can be used in the activesphere in a variety of ways.”
Well, if that doesn’t get your pulse rate up, nothing will. The svelte lines of a sports car but with a back seat and an open bed like a pickup truck. It’s a combination of every vehicle genre for people who want it all. Whether it is a hodgepodge or a brilliant idea that the world has been waiting for is up to each individual to decide.
Between the Scout based luxury offroader and the multi-talented activesphere (what does Audi have against capital letters?), the team from Ingolstadt are burning the midnight oil trying to cover all the bases and then some. But is there a market for these cars? That’s a question without an answer — at least for now.
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