Test driving the Audi e-tron SUV

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For transportation, the biggest challenge isn’t creating electric motors of the correct capability, it is sourcing the electricity. There are several options; among them: batteries, hydrogen fuel cells, and a good old-fashioned ICE serving as a generator.

All three are playing out in ground vehicles, buses cars, tractors, and most enduringly—train locomotives. And while progress is slower in aviation, we’re seeing testing of all three in various types of aerial vehicles.

Bye Aerospace, for example, is nearing certification of a two-place battery-powered electric Part 23 airplane. Student pilots in numerous countries outside the United States have been learning to fly in Pipistrel’s battery-powered Alpha Electro light sport aircraft. The FAA doesn’t yet officially recognize electric propulsion in LSAs. ZeroAvia is flying an electric Piper Malibu in the United Kingdom with the energy coming from a hydrogen fuel cell. Ampaire is flying a Cessna 337 in California with the front ICE replaced by a battery-powered electric motor. The hybrid project will soon be conducting demonstration flights with Mokulele Airlines in Hawaii. And, more than 250 companies are developing various electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicles, some of them using various hybrid schemes.

While these and numerous other such projects are progressing, electric aviation is nowhere near being “routine.” Meanwhile, though, in the automotive world, electric propulsion is much closer to powering everyday transportation.

I had the opportunity recently to spend some time with the state-of-the art in electric automobiles when I drove a 2019 Audi e-tron SUV for about a month. Audi recently formed a partnership with AOPA whereby AOPA members get up to $2,000 off their best price on numerous models of Audis.

I was intrigued by the e-tron because it is Audi’s first all-electric car. For 2021 and beyond, the company is offering the e-tron in both SUV and Sportback models.

The SUV resembles a Q7 in size and look, but is in fact an all-new platform. At a curb weight of 5,754 pounds, the e-tron is 370 pounds heavier thanks to its 36 battery modules, each of which has 12 battery cells. Should any module or cell fail, it can be easily replaced.

All those batteries deliver the equivalent of 402 horsepower, which, as you might imagine from Audi, provides quite a punch when unleashed. The heavy car accelerates to 60 mph in about 5.5 seconds.

Because we have no transmissions in our airplanes, we are used

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