Electric vehicles are no longer a futuristic novelty, but a realistic proposition even in Singapore, as Audi’s E-Tron proves on the road in NZ
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND
It’s pretty telling that three of my last few international test drives have all been of battery-powered electric vehicles (BEVs). You’ve read all about the Porsche Taycan and how it intends to kick Tesla’s buttocks, and soon you’ll find out more about the new fully-electrified Mini-E, and how it plans to make EV motoring appeal to young millennial hipsters.
In between those extremes of high performance and urban/youth mobility however are the regular cars, which in today’s context is typically a large family sport utility vehicle (SUV). If the electrification movement is take hold of the automotive industry, then they have to prove their fitness for purpose in the type of mainstream cars that most regular car buyers drive.
Having said that, calling the Audi E-Tron ‘mainstream’ could be a bit of a stretch, given that it costs $367,500 inclusive of Certificate of Entitlement (COE) – it’s just been launched at the Singapore Motorshow. But the point still stands, in that the E-Tron is a large SUV that will more than likely serve family duties, like doing the school run, and even going on the occasional road trip with the kids.
Which is sort of the basis for this feature, with Audi sending us on a short drive into the New Zealand countryside on the outskirts of Auckland. Aside from taking in the pretty scenery, the trip was meant as a preview of sorts for customers to experience the E-Tron in regular driving environments, the scenario being a typical weekend trip from the city out to the beach or park.
To quickly sum up the car, the E-Tron is what you’ll typically expect from a large German luxury SUV. It looks and drives like any other Audi SUV, being reasonably poised and neutral thanks to its quattro all-wheel-drive system, although the weight from its batteries are fairly noticeable when you’re really pushing it around.
There are very few signs to mark out the E-Tron as a full proper BEV, with only the badges outside the car, and the usual EV trademarks of instant torque and near-silent operation while driving the only giveaways.
The E-Tron is also plenty comfortable on the road, with a well-composed ride matched with excellent overall refinement, so it definitely ticks all the right boxes as a family vehicle.
It even boasts some fancy tech like the cameras for wing mirrors, which will be available as an option for Singapore cars. The system does require some time to get used to, but the view from the screen is pretty clear. We recommend trying the system out for yourself to see if you’d like it.
In any case, we’ve already test driven the E-Tron on CarBuyer.com.sg, and the car is now available in Singapore too, so expect a full local drive report soon.
But onto the bigger BEV issues. Audi claims an estimated range of about 400km on a full charge for the E-Tron, which is plenty even if you intend to make a run from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur.
Here’s the thing though: Audi’s senior PR manager, Lee Nian Tjoe, in his personal view, thinks that range should not even be a topic of discussion because ultimately most Singaporean drivers will never hit that sort of full-charge range anyway.
To that point, I’d say I’ll partially agree. Yes it’ll be good to have a car with enough range so that you have that security blanket of sorts and not have to deal with range anxiety and the fear of running out.
But think about your actual daily usage, and how often you drive over 400km in one go?
READ MORE: Tesla’s ‘affordable’ EV is now in Singapore and we’ve tested it – read about it here or watch our video review below
For many drivers, the answer is probably “seldom”. In Singapore’s urban context, unless you drive a taxi or private hire vehicle, it’s unlikely you’ll do that kind of distances within a short period of time on this island.
The last Land Transport Authority (LTA) metric from 2015 showed the average Singaporean driver covers 17,800km per year, or 48km per day.
Plus, EVs do recuperate energy from braking to recharge the batteries – Audi claims up to 30 percent of the E-Tron’s range is achieved through this alone – so if you manage your driving well enough, there should be more than enough in reserve.
Even on our New Zealand road trip, there were no issues with running out of juice. We covered over 200km of driving on our first day, to a place called the Sculptureum, north of Auckland, and still had around 140km of range left when we returned to our hotel.
Likewise on day two, when we headed out to Hinge & Co, an alfresco cafe restaurant located on a family-friendly farm just south of Auckland, albeit having driven a shorter distance.
What about charging then? That’s a valid question, and I’d say that probably up until a couple of years ago, a real concern for those looking towards EV adoption. But it’s a sign of how quickly things change that it’s probably less of an issue now in Singapore.
Even if you don’t have the means to recharge at home right now (which makes it about 80 percent of us Singaporeans), the number of public charging stations have been sprouting up pretty rapidly in recent times.
By the end of this year, there will be 1,000 public charging points from SP Group islandwide, and they will be supplemented by about 200 more from car sharing company BlueSG, along with smaller operators like Greenlots and petrol company Shell. And it’s not unfeasible to imagine that the number of charging points will increase exponentially in the years ahead.
The thing is though, EV ownership will require a fundamental, though not necessarily drastic, adjustment in driving habits. For those without access to home overnight charging, instead of waiting till it’s almost empty before refuelling, as we do now with existing fossil fuel cars, probably the most effective way to go is to plug it in wherever you see a public charging point.
Think of it like your smartphone: you probably tend to charge it when it reaches a certain percentage and there’s a charging cable around (unless you like to live life on the edge and constantly let it drop to single digits, in which case good luck to you).
Or, you may not even have to do the dirty work, because Audi is offering E-Tron customers a charging-on-demand subscription service, where you can call someone and they will take the car away to be recharged before it is returned to you once it’s done.
Given that charging stations will sprout up in places like shopping malls and the likes, it’s quite likely that you’ll encounter one when you’re out and about running your errands anyway, so it really is just a matter of plugging your car in then. Two hours of charging on the 50kW DC fast chargers currently available from SP Group should be more than enough, but in reality, you probably won’t even need that long to get a decent amount of range if you’re not recharging from empty.
Additionally, most newer EVs these days offer the ability to charge at much faster rates than 50kW. The e-tron, for instance, is capable of charging at up to 150kW, allowing it to go from nearly empty to 80 percent charge in just half an hour. Charging stations that can sustain such rates of charge are already in operation in Europe, so it’s only a matter of time before they become available here.
Even if you don’t make the jump to an EV now, it is a question worth seriously considering. The EV picture is constantly evolving for the better, be in in terms of outright range or, more importantly, charging infrastructure. All you need now is the desire to embrace the change.