AUDI marks its first time presenting a design and technical concept car at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. The all-electric Audi PB18 e-tron presents a radical vision for the high-performance sports car of tomorrow. Broad and flat, visibly inspired by the wind tunnel and the race track, its very presence signals that it is destined to push boundaries. At first sight, the Audi PB18 e-tron shows its kinship with another spectacular concept car from the brand – the Audi Aicon from 2017. This holds true not only for characteristic design elements like the side windows that angle inwards and the extremely extended wheel arches. The two concept cars from 2017 and 2018 also share their electric drive with solid-state battery as energy storage.
But their respective, consistently focused concepts for use make them polar opposites. While the Aicon was designed as a fully automated, long-distance luxury vehicle – a business jet for the road – the creators of the PB18 e-tron designed it as a radical driving machine for the racetrack and road. Dynamics and emotion top its list of specifications. Parameters like propulsive power, lateral acceleration and perfect ergonomics determine each detail. And driver-orientation is in a completely new dimension.
The internal working title at Audi for the showcar project was “Level Zero” – as an explicit way to differentiate it from the Levels 3, 4 and 5 of autonomous driving currently in focus at Audi. In the Audi PB18 e-tron, the driver is the one steering and stepping on the gas or brake pedal. There are therefore no complex systems for piloted driving on board and no comfort features to add weight. In their place are a driver’s seat and the cockpit that are integrated into an inner monocoque shell that can be slid laterally. When driven solo, the monocoque can be positioned in the center of the interior as in a monoposto – the perfect location for the racetrack. This is made possible not least by the by-wire design of the steering and pedals; a mechanical connection of the control elements is not needed.
When the driver’s monocoque is slid into the side position, from where the PB18 e-tron can be steered in everyday driving like a conventional road vehicle, there is room for a passenger. An additional seat can be accessed on the other side, integrated low above the ground and equipped with a three-point seatbelt. The driver also benefits when getting in and out from the easily accessible outside position of the monocoque, which can be moved when the door is open up to the sill.
The Audi PB18 e-tron package follows the traditional architecture of a mid-engine sports car with a cab that is positioned far forward. The car’s center of gravity is located behind the seats and in front of the rear axle – which benefits the driving dynamics. This does not involve the engine-transmission unit, as in a car with a conventional drive system, but rather the battery pack.
The PB18 e-tron is 4.53 meters long, 2 meters wide and just 1.15 meters tall (14.5 x 6.4 x
4.6 ft). These dimensions alone speak of a classic sports car. The wheelbase is 2.70 meters (8.9 ft) and the overhangs are compact. Viewed from the side, the eye is drawn to the gently sloping roof line which is pulled far to the back and features massive C-pillars. Together with the large and almost vertical rear window, this design is reminiscent of a shooting brake concept – the synthesis of a coupé with the rear of a station wagon. The result is not only a distinctive silhouette but also, with 470 liters (16.6 cubic ft), a clear bonus in terms of cargo space – usually a deficit in sports cars.
A flat red band of lights extends across the entire width of the rear and underscores the horizontal orientation of the vehicle body. The cabin, placed on the broad shoulders of the wheel arches, appears almost dainty from the rear. The rear diffuser air outlet has been raised high – another functional feature borrowed from motorsport. The diffuser can be moved downward mechanically to increase downforce. The rear spoiler, which normally is fixed, can be extended rearward for the same purpose.
The front is dominated by the familiar hexagon shape of the Singleframe grille, with an emphatically wide and horizontal cut. The brand logo is placed above at the front of the hood, in the typical Audi sports car style. Large air inlets to the left and right of the Singleframe supply the necessary cooling air to the brakes and the front electric motor. Wide and flat light units with integrated digital matrix technology and laser high-beam headlights complete the face of the PB18 e-tron.
The laser high-beam headlight with its enormous range is especially emblematic of the transfer of know-how from motorsport: This technology made its debut in the Le Mans R18 racing car, where the maximum light output at speeds above 300 km/h (about 186 mph) offered a crucial safety advantage at night as well.
The concept uses three powerful electric motors – one up front and two in the rear. The latter are centrally located between the steering knuckles, each directly driving one wheel via half- shafts. They deliver power output of up to 150 kW to the front axle and 350 kW to the rear – the Audi PB18 e-tron is a true quattro, of course. Maximum output is 500 kW, with boosting, the driver can temporarily mobilize up to 570 kW. The combined torque of up to 830 newton meters (612.2 lb-ft) allows acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h (62.1 mph) in scarcely more than 2 seconds – a speed that differs only marginally from that of a current LMP1 prototype.
The liquid-cooled solid-state battery has an energy capacity of 95 kWh. A full charge provides for a range of over 500 kilometers (310.7 miles) in the WLTP cycle. The Audi PB18 e-tron is already designed for charging with a voltage of 800 volts. This means the battery can be fully recharged in about 15 minutes.
The Audi PB18 e-tron can also be charged cordlessly via induction with Audi Wireless Charging (AWC). This is done by placing a charging pad with integral coil on the floor where the car is to be parked, and connecting it to the power supply. The alternating magnetic field induces an alternating voltage in the secondary coil fitted in the floor of the car, across the air gap.