Electric cars from Audi, Porsche: Explaining platform magic

Audi e-tron GT Concept, 2018 LA Auto Show

It would be unthinkable for any automaker but Porsche to introduce a new car with a flat-6 engine hung out behind the rear axle. At this week’s 2018 LA Auto Show, the 2020 Porsche 911 duly made its debut in the hallowed configuration that has persisted since 1964.

But with underpinnings specific only to one model, the new 911 is a major outlier in the global auto industry. Far more common is what’s known as “platform sharing,” in which several models and often several brands use common underpinnings with different bodies and interiors. With luck, buyers never know about or see the shared components.

Shared platforms are crucial to the flurry of new battery-electric vehicles announced by Audi and Porsche. Porsche intends by 2025 to provide electric variants of all of its models except the 911 (which will get a hybrid); and Audi itself plans 12 fully electric vehicles by 2025, including, likely, multiple models for the brand built on Volkswagen’s mass-production-oriented MEB platform.

While the new 911’s global debut drew oceans of coverage, the sleek Audi e-tron GT electric sedan “concept car” that also debuted in LA demonstrated the reality: almost no vehicle is developed these days on a unique architecture.

The VW Group, which owns Audi and Porsche, is one of the world’s four largest carmakers. It also may be the most frank about its strategy of sharing single platforms or architectures among multiple models. Its compact MQB front-wheel-drive architecture, for instance, will ultimately underpin dozens of vehicles from four brands that comprise 4 million units a year.

From Mission E to Taycan

The Audi e-tron GT represents a high-toned, pricey version of the same principle. Its underpinnings date back to the 2013 arrival of the Tesla Model S, which landed like a global thunderclap and drove every carmaker to reassess its long-term plans for battery-electric vehicles.

Among the most startled, and threatened, of high-end makers was Porsche that had long viewed itself as the world’s pre-eminent maker of sporting luxury vehicles. By that time, those ranged from the 911 coupe, to the Cayenne SUV, to the Panamera four-door sedan.

DON’T MISS: Porsche Mission E: 600-HP Electric Sport Sedan Concept Targets Tesla

Yet the Model S provided a combination of style, power, road-holding, and zero-emission driving that Porsche couldn’t equal. That was simply unacceptable. It was the spur that led to the debut of a striking Porsche Mission E all-electric sedan concept at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 2015.

Prototype for Porsche Taycan, the production Mission E

The Mission E concept became the Porsche Taycan sedan that will go on sale during 2020, with a range of motor powers and a feature no other electric vehicle offers: an 800-volt electrical architecture that permits 350-kw fast charging, restoring up to 80 percent of a high-capacity battery in 15 to 20 minutes.

J1: Two Taycans, one Audi

The Taycan is built on Porsche’s own, unique electric-car platform, called J1. To boost utilization, Porsche plans to offer a shooting-brake version, shown in concept at last spring’s Geneva motor show as the Mission E Cross Turismo.

CHECK OUT: Porsche Mission E Cross Turismo Concept (Sep 2015)

But there’s a third variant riding on the same set of underpinnings. It’s just not a Porsche., The Audi e-tron GT unveiled at the 2018 LA Auto show has entirely different styling and a distinctively Audi interior, but apparently all of the same mechanicals.

The arrival dates for these vehicles range from early 2020 (the Taycan, which will be followed by the Cross Turismo within a year or so) to 2021 for the Audi e-tron GT.

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