Connected in no way to the 1980s sci-fi feature film about a computer programmer stuck inside a video game, Audi’s e-tron brand has gone from a seemingly whimsical concept to a badge you can put on your driveway.
And as the German car maker increases its focus on the development of alternative energy vehicles, you can expect to see the e-tron moniker featuring even more in the four-ring portfolio.
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But what exactly does the badge represent?
Put simply, e-tron is applied to anything that has an electrified drivetrain including hybrid and pure electric, but less straightforward is the evolution of the nameplate and its uses since it was forged 10 years ago.
When it surfaced in 2009, the first use of e-tron was as a standalone model name for the Frankfurt concept car. The very first e-tron offered a glimpse into an Audi future where electrification was not for sensible zero-emissions people mover, but as a no-compromise sportscar.
The e-tron’s resemblance to the R8 petrol-powered supercar was also a prophetic hint at a version of the company halo that would later be offered as a full-electric variant. The first e-tron was followed by a second of the same name at the Detroit in January 2010 and then an e-tron Spyder in later that year, which used a diesel-electric hybrid powertrain.
However, the name shifted from a model to a variant when the company revealed the A1 e-tron and A3 e-tron hatchback concepts.
But it wouldn’t be until 2013 when Audi unveiled the production version of the A3 e-tron when the badge made the transition from the show floor to the manufacturing line. The first production model used the A3’s relatively conventional petrol engine coupled with an electric motor and plug-in charging for a hybrid that could be used as a pure EV for short trips.
The same principle has now been applied to the company’s large SUV for a version of the Q7 that can cruise for 56km on electricity only or uses just 1.7 litres of diesel per 100km when in hybrid mode. Like the now discontinued A3, e-tron is still the Q7 version’s variant name.
But it was time for the brand to make its foray into pure electric passenger models heralded by the 2015 Frankfurt SUV concept EV dubbed the e-tron quattro, which became the production e-tron, revealed earlier this year.
Once again, the e-tron name has come full circle and is being used as a model designation, which raises questions about how the car maker will roll out other electric vehicles and their nomenclature.
As for the future? Just this week, Audi let slip an electric and stretched wheelbase version of the Q2 for the Chinese market and an electrified Q8 is also close to being confirmed, all of which will broaden the e-tron halo.
Looking even further into the future and the RSQ e-tron concept (a virtual evolution of the awesome PB 18 concept) returns the brand full circle to a hyper sports concept a decade after the first R8-doppleganger started the movement in Frankfurt.
Audi’s e-tron strategy might not have been quite as prominent in its new car landscape if it wasn’t for the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal of 2015. After the controversy surrounding combustion engines, the company pulled resources from some development projects to boost the development of emissions-free initiatives.
Today, the e-tron brand is not just a model or a variant name and instead represents Audi’s electrification movement as a more holistic umbrella in much the same way its Audi Sport branding encompasses all high-performance models.
As a marketing tool, it goes head to head with arch rivals BMW, which has the equivalent i branch of EVs and hybrids, while Mercedes has weighed in with its EQ line of electrified vehicles.
In a bid to set the emerging e-tron vehicles apart from the more traditional offerings in its ranks, Audi has applied a number of styling signatures to its cars, whether they be fantastical concepts or the latest production models.
The absence of tailpipes is one indication you are behind an electrified Audi and the classic grille is always filled with a different, lower drag mesh to improve range. Cool LED lighting both inside and out has also become a trademark of the e-tron bloodline.
Futuristic vehicles gliding almost silently around in an eerie LED-lit glow? Hmm, maybe Audi’s e-tron empire has a lot more in common with Tron after all.