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Running rings around Tesla? Audi e-tron prototypes on test in the desert

When Audi officially launched its e-tron electric SUV in the United States last month, Audi of America President Scott Keogh told journalists that he wanted Audi to be "the number-one electric vehicle seller in America over the long term.”

No real surprise; Audi along with Daimler and Porsche are all readying EVs designed to reign in the lead that Tesla has created in the premium EV market in the United States. 

But while the e-tron will undoubtedly be very much an Audi in terms of fit and finish and desirability (at around $76,000), it may not yet be a technical match for Tesla vehicles.

Patrick Hummel, an automotive analyst at UBS was less than impressed in the Financial Times. 

“The e-tron underscores that catching up with Tesla is more difficult than expected by many. It has slower acceleration and a shorter range than Tesla’s Model X SUV, its direct competitor and it fails to set new benchmarks in the premium EV segment, even though we consider it better than the Mercedes EQC."

Harsh words but it might not matter. You could add that the Tesla has neither four rings nor a three pointed star on its hood which counts for a lot on the driveways and valet parking lanes of America. 

However, there was something else at the launch that was of greater significance. Audi announced a partnership with Amazon to exclusively sell and install the home vehicle charging systems to buyers of the e-tron.

Amazon will deliver the hardware and hire specialist technicians to install  through its Amazon Home Services operation. It's the first deal Amazon has made with an automaker. “We see charging installation as a very important business.” said Pat Bigatel, director of Amazon Home Services. 

Has Audi made a pact with the devil, or has it chosen exactly the right partner in order to establish the eTron as a market leader in the United States? Or both?

Tesla also distributes chargers to customers homes as part of the buying process – but it is a stand-alone solution. Tesla does not have Alexa, Amazon's customer data or its AWS cloud technology.

For Audi, it gets the trust and expertise of Amazon as part of the e-tron bundle for its US customers and Amazon gets a toehold in the auto business. 

Bloomberg Analyst Nathaniel Bullard listed some ways Amazon might make EV ownership more attractive, when he spoke at a recent London conference.

"What if Alexa could place your Whole Foods order while you were on your way to the store? Or start charging your car when electricity prices are lowest? Think about that?" he said.

That is on top of the regular Alexa features that Audi will build into the e-tron's infotainment hub such as Prime Music playback, weather information, to-do list and control other Alexa-enabled devices at home. 

And all the while the data generated by the driver's interactions with Alexa will prove invaluable to Amazon; very useful for any future plans to enter the auto market as retailer or developer.  

The e-Tron will undoubtedly sell in large numbers to those attracted to the idea of an electric Audi SUV but the presence of those Amazon algorithms within its core may have more of an impact on the US auto market in the longer term.  

- Paul Fisher, Editor 

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