What has become known as Monterey Car Week, headlined by the Pebble Beach Concours de Elegance, is fast becoming an important show on the circuit for car—mostly concept—unveilings. This was especially apparent this year, with the unveiling of no fewer than a half a dozen debuts.
Audi presented its first vehicle ever in conjunction with the week-long event, what it calls a design and technical concept car. The all-electric PB 18 e-tron is a vision for a future high-performance sports car created in the new Audi design studio in Malibu, CA, where Audi says the brand’s design is consistently being updated for the future. The technical concept is said to benefit from Audi’s many years of Le Mans experience by go-fast experts at Audi Sport GmbH, the high-performance subsidiary of Audi. So the PB 18 e-tron name refers both to Pebble Beach (PB) and the technological tie to the Audi R18 LMP1 racing car.
The company also claims a stylistic tie to the Aicon concept from 2017, particularly with design elements like the side windows that angle inwards and the extremely extended wheel arches. Both concepts also share their electric drive with solid-state-battery energy storage.
The concept uses three powerful electric motors, one up front and two in the rear. The rears are centrally located, each directly driving one wheel via half-shafts. Up to 150 kW is delivered to the front axle and 450 kW to the rear, for maximum output is 500 kW, which the driver can temporarily boost to 570 kW. Combined with torque of up to 830 N·m (612 lb·ft), acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) is a little more than 2 s—slightly slower than that of a current LMP1 prototype.
Efficiency is enhanced by recovering large amounts of kinetic energy. Up to moderate braking, the electric motors are solely responsible for decelerating the vehicle, with the hydraulic brakes only coming into play during heavy braking. A Torque Control Manager, which works together with the Electronic Stabilization Control (ESC), actively distributes the power to the front and individual rear axles as needed for maximum dynamics and stability.
The car’s liquid-cooled solid-state battery pack has an energy capacity of 95 kW·h, with a full charge providing over 500 km (310 mi) of range on the WLTP (Worldwide Harmonized Light Vehicle Test Procedure) cycle. At 800 V, complete battery recharging can happen in just 15 min. Charging cordlessly via induction, via Audi Wireless Charging (AWC), is enabled by a charging pad with integral coil on the floor under a parked car, the alternating magnetic field inducing an alternating voltage in the secondary coil fitted in the car’s bottom.
While the Aicon was designed as a fully automated vehicle, the PB 18 e-tron is intended to be a driving machine for racetrack and road with a driver orientation. An internal working title for the show car project was Level Zero to differentiate it from the Level 3-5 automated driving currently in focus of Audi production engineers.
The PB18’s driver seat and cockpit are integrated into an inner shell that can be slid laterally. When driven solo, the inner shell can be positioned in the center of the interior—the perfect location for the racetrack, says Audi. When the driver’s shell is slid into the side position, the concept can be controlled from a conventional position, with room for a passenger. The shell sliding is made possible by the by-wire connection of the steering and pedals.
The concept is 4.53 m (14.9 ft) long, 2 m (6.6 ft) wide, and just 1.15 m (3.8 ft) tall—with a wheelbase of 2.70 m (8.9 ft) making for compact overhangs. The PB 18’s mid-engine architecture translates into a cab forward layout and a center of gravity located behind the seats and forward of the rear axle. A mix of aluminum, carbon, and multi-material composites ensures the body has a low basic weight. The comparatively light solid-state battery pack means that total weight is less than 1550 kg (3420 lb).
The extreme design is also practical in some respect, with gently sloping roof line meeting a large and almost vertical rear window, reminiscent of a shooting brake concept melding coupé with the rear of a station wagon. The distinctive silhouette allows for 470 L (16.6 ft³) of cargo space. A custom luggage set makes optimal use of the cargo space.
Other design highlights from the rear are a flat red band of lights extending across the entire width of the rear and broad wheel-arch shoulders. Aerodynamic details include a higher-than-normal rear air diffuser that can be moved to increase downforce and a rear spoiler that can be extended rearward for the same purpose.
Large 22-in wheels with eight turbine-like spokes, together with wheel-arch air inlets and outlets, help to cool the car’s large carbon brake discs.
Up front, large air inlets to the left and right of the wide and low Singleframe supply cooling air to the brakes and front electric motor. Wide and flat light headlights have integrated digital matrix technology and laser high beams, the latter said to have enormous range thanks to tech transfer from motorsports. The technology made its debut in the Le Mans R18 racing car, where the maximum light output at speeds above 300 km/h (186 mph) offered a crucial visibility advantage at night.
A low hood connecting the two accentuated fenders doubles as an air deflector and, in conjunction with a large windshield, offers good visibility—over and under the hood. Mounted within the field of view is a transparent OLED (organic light-emitting diode) surface that shows the ideal line of the next curve using data from the navigation and vehicle electronics. In normal road traffic, it shows navigation in the driver’s field of vision similar to a head-up display.
The R18 Le Mans racing car suspension served as the model for the concept’s basic architecture. The front and rear independent suspensions have lower and upper transverse control arms as commonly found in motor racing, a push-rod system on the front axle, and pull-rod system on the rear, and adaptive magnetic ride shock absorbers all around. The 22-in wheels are fitted with 275/35 tires in front and 315/30 in back. The carbon brake discs are a large 19-in in diameter and work in conjunction with the electric motors for braking.