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Green and mean

Supercar buyers usually want a fast ride and that’s all. Will they compromise for a beautiful hybrid?
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Eco-friendly cars are designed to be ‘simple’ and ‘practical’. For high-performance car nuts, those words may be synonymous with ‘boring’ and ‘unimaginative’. Even if a car provides a clean and efficient mode of transport, it won’t necessarily give its driver a thrilling experience.

Audi hopes to change that. It has unveiled a sleek new concept car dubbed the e-tron, which aims to strike a balance between efficiency and performance. But will the e-tron find a place in the expensive eco-car market?

The two-seater is targeted at a discerning group of car enthusiasts that won’t be willing to compromise on speed and style. Despite carrying four electric motors, the car can accelerate from zero to 100 kilometres per hour in just under five seconds, and it has a top speed twice that. It can run for 200 kilometres before it needs a recharge. That’s less than an average fuel tank, but a better effort than some other eco models on the market. Because the e-tron isn’t intended to be used every day, drivers may be willing to make that compromise.

Creating grunty eco cars is uncharted territory for carmakers. The major design challenge for the e-tron was its weight: nearly a third of its 1,600 kilograms comes from its lithium battery. The design team could do little to avoid that, but they used lightweight carbon fibre and aluminium materials for the body.

The e-tron is designed to be easy on the eye as well as the environment, with new innovations such as LED lighting and efficient air-intake tools embedded in the grille.

“Electric cars don’t need to be boring,” says Audi New Zealand general manager Dane Fisher. “They can have personality and performance. It’s a beautiful piece of design, and that’s what’s going to appeal to people. It has an exaggerated single-frame grille and a very wide, purposeful stance. It’s very futuristic.”

The e-tron will hit the showroom floor by 2012, and is expected to retail for around $300,000. Despite the high price point, Audi doesn’t expect it to be a hard sell. The company has already spoken to prospective Kiwi buyers who would use the e-tron as their third or fourth vehicle. It’s a small market; Audi will produce only 200 units, internationally, in the first year. But the e-tron may pave the way for a new market of more interesting eco cars.