• Audi starting A3 e-tron electric car pilot program
  • Available in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and Denver regions
  • Leading to launch of mass-market Audi EV in 2014

Most car companies have embraced electric or hybrid powertrains as a way to demonstrate their green intentions, but German automakers have been slower to adopt the idea. In particular Audi, and its parent company Volkswagen, have been among the most reluctant to deliver electrically powered cars.

While VW has revealed plans to sell an all-electric Golf in 2013, Audi has largely been all show, producing one splashy "e-tron" electric car concept after another, but revealing no plans for production vehicles.

Now, however, it seems Audi is ready to jump into the game with the announcement of a pilot program for an all-electric Audi A3 e-tron in the US. The program will operate in much the same way that BMW's electric car test programs for the Mini-E and the new ActiveE 1 Series do; the cars will be available in a closed-end lease program, and the participants will become part of select group of test subjects. This approach has helped BMW gather valuable real-world data, with the added benefit of creating a small group of BMW EV fans before the company has even started producing a mass-market electric car.

In announcing the pilot program Audi was a bit vague on specifics, saying only that it will be open to residents of the San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and Denver regions, and that it is starting up over the next few months.

Audi says the pilot program will run for at least a year and will eventually give way to a more widely available electric car by 2014. That future electric car will likely not be an A3, however, as Audi is really just using the A3 pilot program as a way to test the underlying electric drive systems and gauge consumer reaction to the various features of Audi's electric vision.

Although Audi is focused on making an efficient electric car and squeezing every available ounce of electricity out of the battery, the company also says it will remain committed to making any electric car it builds feel like an Audi. "[It] definitely feels like a driver's car, in addition to all the usual EV attributes of quietness and instant torque," said AutoPacific Analyst Ed Kim after experiencing the A3 e-tron firsthand. "It has the sort of ride, responsiveness and handling that you would expect from a German car."

Even so, performance statistics for the A3 e-tron aren't exactly stellar, with a reported 0-60 mph time of around 11 seconds. The car is expected to have around a 90-mile range on a full charge, which is on par with other EVs available today.

What it means to you: Audi, one of the last holdouts in the electric car game, is finally throwing their hat in the ring with an all-electric A3 pilot program open to a select group of consumers.

author photo

Nick Chambers is a "next generation" car enthusiast, recognized for his green automotive coverage in Gas 2.0, The New York Times, Popular Mechanics, HybridCars.com and PluginCars.com. In addition, he's been syndicated in Matter Network, AP and Reuters.

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