Electrify, or die. That’s the choice facing the world’s global automakers—at least if they plan to sell their wares in the European Union past 2020. That’s when strict new fleet-wide CO2 emissions regulations phase in, with massive fines for those who can’t comply with the new 95g CO2/km rules.
Diesel’s disgrace means that battery power is the only real option for the OEMs, and few are embracing this reality more firmly than Volkswagen Group—a touch ironic given its previous stance on diesel power. Now, we’ve had our best look yet at one of the ways VW Group is going to do that with its forthcoming PPE (Premium Platform Electric), which will make up the bones of future Audis and Porsches.
Four platforms to rule them all?
VW Group has long championed the use of flexible vehicle architectures—its modular MQB platform lets it build everything from a diminutive Polo hatchback all the way up to the supersized Atlas SUV. That approach allows the automotive giant to take advantage of economies of scale across multiple brands, and it’s using the same playbook when it comes to battery electric vehicles. For smaller vehicles, its new MEB platform comes on stream in the next few months, first with the Europe-only ID.3 hatchback, then next year with the US-bound ID.4 crossover.
We’ll also get at least one MEB-based Audi in the US, the Q4 e-tron. This is going to be Audi’s entry-level BEV, comparable to the current Q3 in exterior dimensions, although with Q5 interior space courtesy of a BEV’s superior packaging. The Q4 e-tron, like other MEB variants, will be rear-wheel drive as standard. It’ll use a permanent magnet synchronous motor (PSM), although all-wheel drive with a front asynchronous motor (ASM) will be an option. But MEB is unsuitable for larger, more expensive, higher performance BEVs, just like MQB is unsuitable for bigger Audis and Porsches.
Audi was the first VW Group brand to get a long-range BEV to market, putting the e-tron SUV into production last year, and a second variant—the e-tron Sportback—is due next year. But the e-tron is really a stop-gap; it uses the group’s MLB Evo platform (used by the A4/A5/A6/A7/A8/Q5/Q7/Q8/Cayenne/Macan) but replaces the internal combustion stuff with batteries and a pair of electric motors. Although we don’t expect to see many MLB Eco-Based BEVs, there is an e-tron Sportback SUV coming next year.
Porsche’s brand new Taycan, which is entering production now, had an extra year for development compared to the e-tron SUV. The Taycan uses a platform called J1, and it differs from most BEVs in that it has an 800V electrical architecture (as opposed to 400V) that Porsche picked because it allows for both faster DC charging as well as more sustained performance. J1 is also less of an evolutionary dead-end than squeezing batteries into a Q8. Next year Porsche will start building a wagon variant called the Taycan Sport Turismo, and Audi is also going to use the platform for a new BEV called the e-tron GT, which will be built at its Neckarsulm plant in 2020.
As you can see from the pictures above, the e-tron GT looks a lot like the A5/S5/RS5 Sportback, and it benefits from a very low roofline thanks to those voids in the battery pack that provide room for the rear passengers to store their feet. Like the Taycan, the e-tron GT is a twin-motor design with PSMs front and rear, although it will have a slightly lower power output at 434kW (591hp), versus the Taycan’s 460kW (616hp). But J1 is also an intermediate step, because Audi and Porsche are collaborating on a much more flexible BEV platform—PPE. And for the first time we now have some concrete details about it.
Like J1, PPE also uses an 800V electrical architecture, which means high performance and up to 350kW DC fast charging. Unlike J1, there are no voids in the battery pack (I refuse to call them foot garages), but the pack can come in low and high floor variants, with a 20mm difference in battery height. It’s been public for some time that the replacement for the Porsche Macan will use PPE, presumably with the high floor, and Audi showed us a concept of a PPE-based fastback that would use the lower floor. We weren’t allowed to take photos of it but it looked like an evolved A7, although Audi stressed that it was a styling exercise and in no way a final design.
PPE is going to be rear-wheel drive as standard, and like the Taycan it will use a PSM at the rear. But all-wheel drive will be available, with either a PSM or an ASM for the front axle depending on the model. And it really is a flexible platform when it comes to things like wheelbase or track—the only fixed dimension is the distance between the front axle and the pedals.
Although there’s not an exact date for the first PPE models yet, 2023 seems like a reasonable guess. According to Mario Kremer, project manager for assembly planning at Audi, the goal is to keep as much of the car assembly as similar to MLB Evo as possible. Kremer told us that the final two thirds of assembly ought to be almost identical, and for powertrain installation (for example) the people that currently install the fuel tanks would probably install the battery pack, with the high voltage wiring added by workers that currently install the driveshaft in MLB Evo machines.
Audi and Porsche are also looking to build PPE at scale, with talk of up to 2 million units a year by the mid- to late-2020s (versus 10 million cheaper MEB cars a year across VW, Audi, Seat, and Skoda). And there are even discussions about other automakers licensing the platform, similar to the way Ford is going to license MEB.