VIENNA, Austria -- In a countermove to BMW's electric-car offensive, Audi plans to launch at least four plug-in hybrid cars in the coming years.
It all begins with the A3 Sportback e-tron, which will arrive in the United States next year.
The compact hatchback -- Audi first plug-in hybrid -- debuts in Europe this month. U.S. sales are expected to begin in the second or third quarter of 2015, while China deliveries will start in the first or second quarter of next year.
The plug-in hybrid will compete with cars such as the battery-powered BMW i3.
Audi CEO Rupert Stadler said the A3 Sportback e-tron will be followed by other plug-in hybrids.
"We strongly believe in plug-in hybrids and we will add a new model each year, beginning with the Q7 next year, followed by the A6 long-wheelbase sedan for China and the A8," Stadler said at the A3 Sportback e-tron's introduction here.
Audi executives say plug-in hybrids are the best solution for low-emission vehicles because they don't face the same range constraints as battery-powered vehicles. Plug-in hybrids use a conventional internal combustion engine but can also run on electric power with zero emissions.
"Plug-in hybrids are electric vehicles for everyday driving, exactly what our customers are asking for," Stadler said.
The A3 Sportback e-tron can be driven under electric power for up to about 30 miles. Using the gasoline engine, it has a range of about 370 miles. BMW's i3 has a driving range of up to about 100 miles, rising to about 186 miles for the version with a range extender.
Audi's approach diverges from that of BMW, which created the "i" subbrand to showcase its environmental technology. The i3 city car and the plug-in hybrid i8 supercar have plastic exterior body panels and distinctive styling to make them stand out from other cars on the road.
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