SAN FRANCISCO — The e-tron, Audi's first full-electric vehicle, will be available in the U.S. in mid-2019 with a 95-kilowatt-hour battery, some nifty electronic gadgetry and a competitive price tag.
But what it won't have is a ton of back-end costs for Audi dealers.
Audi of America is trying a new retail model with the five-seat, all-wheel-drive crossover. Instead of the brand's 303 U.S. dealers carrying inventory, they'll handle customer reservations for the e-tron — held with refundable $1,000 deposits.
That could help Audi and its retailers accomplish what few others have been able to do: consistently sell electric vehicles at a profit.
A lot hinges on the experiment. Other full-electrics are expected to follow the e-tron into Audi's lineup, beginning in 2020.
"I think it would be a beautiful world if you can go to a dealer — and we'd like to find that beautiful world — with zero floorplan [expense] and proper, full gross on the car," said Audi of America President Scott Keogh. "This would be a beautiful state; so let's go see if we can find this dream state."
At the e-tron's unveiling here last week, Keogh told Automotive News that Audi's proven dealer network gives the brand a significant advantage in competing with other premium EVs, including Tesla's Model X.
"The same network that got us to double our sales, and got us to 200,000 units [annually], is going to be the same network that's going to lead this electric revolution for us," Keogh said. "And that's a massive competitive advantage — an onboard and engaged network."
He said every Audi dealer will be able to sell the e-tron without having to worry about allocation or whether the factory got its sales projections for each dealership right. Reservations and deposits can be made online through audiusa.com or in person at a dealership.
Keogh said the time a customer waits for delivery will depend on global demand, and it could stretch for months or even a year or more. All e-trons will be built at Audi's assembly plant in Brussels.
An Audi spokesman later clarified that, if e-tron production exceeds existing reservations and orders, e-trons would be available for U.S. dealers to keep in stock to sell on demand. U.S. Audi dealers also have the option of ordering e-trons for their own inventory, should they wish to do so, and will have demonstrator models on hand for shoppers.