Starting in late 2010, Audi plans to offer a hybrid version of its upcoming Q5 crossover vehicle. Wolfgang Hatz, head of powertrain development for the VW group, claimed that Audi must offer a hybrid in order to stay competitive with rival automakers that offer hybrid SUVs such as the Lexus RX 400h and upcoming BMW X6 hybrid. In a rather pert statement, Hatz claimed that "we have to do hybrids in order to show people that we are able to do them." And there you have it.
Despite these concessions to the gas/electric hybrid's burgeoning popularity, Audi maintains that the diesel engine presents a far stronger business case. Why? Lower development costs than for hybrid powertrains, which Audi claim are exorbitant at three to four times greater than for a traditional gasoline engine setup. They claim that diesel powertrains are some 50 percent more expensive to develop than gasoline powertrains.
The hybrid powertrain was initially planned for the larger, heavier Q7, but given the added expense of the hybrid powertrain, it would've pushed the price of the already expensive Q7 into the stratosphere. And doubtless Audi looked at the miserable sales numbers of GM's Tahoe and Escalade full-size hybrids, not to mention the quick death of Chrysler's Aspen and Dodge Durango hybrids.
VW/Audi continue to aggressively push diesels, as witnessed by the announcement of the A3 2.0 TDI for the U.S. and the Q7 3.0 TDI to be sold this year. The company is even pushing diesels into heretofore untapped markets, such as the roadster market in the form of the Volkswagen BlueSport Concept that Bengt Halvorsen scooped yesterday at the Detroit Auto Show.--Colin Mathews