Audi establishes "e-tron" electric car division

In-house performance tuners are nothing new to the automotive industry - BMW's M division dates back more than three decades - but Audi has just formed one of the most interesting skunk works ever created.

In order to truly focus on high-performance - and high-dollar - electric vehicles, Audi has established a new "e-tron" division to develop the company's EV technology. Like BMW's M or Mercedes-Benz' AMG, Audi's e-tron division will be tasked with producing a range of up-scale performance cars, albeit exclusively with electric drivetrains.

Vehicles produced under the e-tron banner will have individual names, helping to differentiate the models. The e-tron division will launch its first model in 2012, and is planning to offer at least 2 vehicles, although a third could be in the works.

"You can assume we'll have not just one but two or three or even more electric cars," said Filip Brabec, general manager of product planning for Audi of America.

Headed by Franciscus van Meel, the e-tron division is said to have about 100 employees. Production will start off small at about 100 units per year, but could ramp up to 1,000 units per year thereafter.

The e-tron division's initial offering will be based on the first e-tron concept shown at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show. That concept was similar in size and shape to the company's R8 sports car. E-tron's second model will likely be based on the smaller e-tron concept that bowed at this year's Detroit Auto Show and will come wear the long-rumored R4 nameplate.

While most automakers are focusing on budget EVs for city driving, don't expect a price tag this side of reasonable for Audi's e-tron offerings. Due to the high price of lithium-ion batteries, Audi of America President Johan de Nysschen says Audi e-trons will be the most expensive in the automaker's lineup, topping the R8 5.2 FSI's price of $156,300.

1. 'Audi sets up unit to...' view

Detroit e-tron concept