Those who know their Audi concept cars might take this for the Audi e-tron quattro, the smart looking electric SUV that hints at a new Q5. Well it is electric but the car announced this week at the Detroit Motor Show has one crucial difference…
In Audi’s alternative fuel alphabet, after e comes… h. As in hydrogen. The new Audi h-tron still has one electric motor on the front axle and one on the back axle, but instead of being powered by rechargeable batteries it makes its own juice in a fuel stack, converting hydrogen into electricity.
The advantages? Not just an absence of local (tailpipe) emissions as you get with an electric car, but no global emissions – the only byproduct of the process is water. Fuel cells are an efficient way to make power, too, with Audi saying that at 60 per cent efficiency the h-tron quatro is far ahead of a combustion engine. And of course there is no shortage of hydrogen.
The problem is getting it – Audi makes its own at a wind-powered power-to-gas plant in northern Germany – and then handling the stuff. But the Audi h-tron seems to have the answer. The gas is stored at 700 bar pressure in three special carbon-fibre reinforced tanks under the cabin floor. The stack itself is made up of 330 individual cells built into the car’s front structure. Cleverly, Audi says it is able to use essentially the same structure for the h-tron as it does the e-tron.
Boosting the 110kW (147bhp) output of the fuel cell stack is a lithium ion battery under the car’s floor. Kept charged up by storing recovered energy during braking, it tops up the performance with another 100kW (134bhp) of power. There’s an electric boost on the concept’s roof too: in the form of what Audi claims to be the world’s largest in-car solar roof. It generates 320 watts, for a ‘free’ extra 620 miles of driving every year.
So what are the practicalities for the Audi h-tron driver of the future? A range of 372 miles, refuelling in four minutes, 124mph top speed, 0-62mph in under 7 seconds and a meaty 550Nm (405 lb ft) of torque through all four wheels. The car is 4.8m long, seats four, has 500 litres of luggage space, and a Cd of 0.27. It is also equipped with all the sensors, scanners and cameras that the brand has so far developed for driverless driving – we will see this autonomous gadgetry in production with the next generation Audi A8, the firm promises.
Fuel cell cars have been ‘imminent’ since the turn of the 21st century – Audi says this is the VW Audi group’s fifth generation of the technology – but momentum is building strongly now. Audi may not be the first into production with a fuel cell car but with the h-tron quattro it is showing that it won’t be the last.
Images courtesy of Audi