INTERVIEW: Matthew Mostafaei — Audi e-tron & Connected Vehicle Manager

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The Audi e-tron just made its official debut at few days ago in San Francisco but it’s still headline news across the automotive world, as it’s quite a big deal. The e-tron is the first-ever, all-electric vehicle from Audi and it has the specs and tech to rival the best in the business, if not become the absolute best EV SUV on the road.

During the reveal, Audi threw a lot of information at us all and there’s a lot to learn about the new e-tron. Though, there were still some questions we had, so we sat down with the Product Manager of the Audi e-tron and Audi’s Connected Vehicle Manager, Matthew Mostafaei to talk a little bit about the e-tron and to help answer some of our questions.

“The e-tron was just revealed here, tonight, in San Francisco, which is basically the home of innovation which is why we wanted to show it here. This car is so innovative, with its safety technologies, with its charging technologies, it’s bringing a lot of industry firsts that we haven’t seen from other electric vehicle manufacturers. So we wanted to show it here in the heart of disruption, which is San Francisco.” said Mostafaei.

And the e-tron is a surprisingly advanced car. It brings industry-first technologies such as Virtual Mirrors, which replace traditional side mirrors with high-definition cameras, and 150kW charging capabilities, which is significantly faster than anything else one the market.

Also, the Audi e-tron is an interesting car in the market because it doesn’t only compete with other electric SUVs. Audi specifically sized, priced and marketed the e-tron to be a competitor to every SUV in the segment, not just electric ones.

“We look at the e-tron, we look at it as a full-mid-size SUV. So what that means is that it fits right in the heart of the mid-size market, which is the hottest luxury market at this time. You also see other traditional competitors, like the Mercedes-Benz GLE, BMW X5, this is right in line, in terms of size, with those vehicles”. he said. “When we built this car, we built it as a mid-size SUV first and an electric vehicle second. Therefore, it’s meant to be the only car in your home if you want it to be.”

But why start with an SUV and not something more exciting, like a sport sedan or coupe, to excite the fanbase? Something like the Tesla Model 3 or Model S?

“When we look at the real heart of the luxury car segment in the U.S., we’re seeing that sedans are dwindling down a little bit and SUVs are more popular. So we wanted to make sure that we had a luxury SUV in the market, ready for the right customer.”

“Customers demand SUVs and that’s exactly what we’re giving to them.”

One of the big aspects of the e-tron Audi stressed during the reveal was its 150kW charging capabilities. That’s faster than the Tesla Model X’s 120kW and the Jaguar I-Pace’s 100kW. So we asked Mostafaei about that and what sort of difference it makes.

“The e-tron has an industry-leading 150kW charger. So what that means is, essentially, you’re able to stop on the side of the highway in the middle of a road trip and get up to an 80-percent charge in about thirty minutes.” he said. “Again, we have 150kW charging and the main reason for that is our really advanced cooling system. So we’re able to keep the battery in the optimum temperature range, so it’s able to charge at a peak 150kW but actually maintain that 150kW throughout the majority of the charge.”

That last bit is important, especially when compared to its competitors. For instance, not only does the Model X charge at only 120kW compared to the e-torn’s 150kW, but it can only do that for a short time, much shorter than the e-tron, due to heat and cooling, or lack thereof. That advanced cooling system and heat pump also helps the e-tron accelerate at peak performance for much, much longer, where a Tesla will cook its batteries after only a few consecutive runs.

One of the other big tech points Audi stressed about the e-tron is energy recuperation, it’s regenerative braking. All electric cars have it but the Audi e-tron gets different levels of it, making it more advanced than competitors.

“The regenerative braking is something that’s really exciting and interesting for the -tron, where we have of course manually-adjustable regenerative braking, so you can go into a full coast mode or you can choose two different levels”. We saw the Audi e-tron test its regen-braking on Pikes Peak and it was actually able to increase its battery range after heading down the famous mountain pass. “But also if you want, the car’s intelligent enough to take over and do full regen for you. So you can set the regen into automatic mode and it’ll determine, based on information [from] various sensors throughout the car and the navigation data, what the best times are, essentially, to regen.”

Though, if you were to show someone who doesn’t know the e-tron well, the first thing they might ask about is its Virtual Mirrors, which replace traditional mirrors for cameras on tiny little arms.

“This is really the first car launching with Virtual Mirrors as an option”, even if it’s not an option here in the U.S. market and Lexus technically beat Audi to the punch but only in Japan. Audi has put in an application to get them approved but no such luck as of yet. “It’s really a cool benefit that help the aerodynamics of the car and help boost the overall range of the vehicle.”

This is all very impressive but the one thing no one has really talked about is its autonomous driving aids. All Teslas sport Autopilot, a way to semi-drive the car without your hands or your feet on the steering wheel or pedals, respectively. In Europe, many new Audi models have Level 3 Autonomous, the most menaced system on the market at the moment, actually. But not here in the U.S.

“In the U.S, the e-tron is a Level 2 vehicle, so it’s a driver assistance vehicle.” he said. “It offers the ability to keep your lane, in stop & go traffic, and we have traffic jam assist in the vehicle”.

Now that the Audi e-tron has finally been revealed, showing off the brand’s first attempt at an electric car, what’s next for Audi?

“The e-tron is the first foray into electric cars but it’s the first of many. So we announced three cars that are debuting for 2020. We have the e-tron, the Sportback version of the e-tron and the e-tr0n GT.” said Mostafaei. “Beyond that, we’re also partnering with Electrify America, to leverage their charging network. So you’ll be able to take advantage of the full 150kWk charging network.”

Audi has also partnered with Amazon, to provide charging stations. “[Customers] will be able to leverage our partnership with Amazon to set up easy Level 2 charging in their garage” said Mostafaei. “It’s as easy as shopping on Amazon, it’s just one click and you’ll get an electrician coming to your house ready to go.”

The Audi e-tron is a seriously advanced electric car and one that has very typical German thoroughness in its design and technology. It seems as if the folks in Ingolstadt have thought of nearly everything and delivered a seriously well-rounded machine that could leap to the top of the pile of electric SUVs.