THE hydrogen-powered Audi A7 Sportback H-tron has been shown at the LA motor show as the brand's tech boss, Dr Ulrich Hackenberg, admits the company won't be backing a push for infrastructure to support hydrogen-powered vehicles.
The zero-emission H-tron is one of several fuel-cell cars at the show, with Toyota and Honda lifting the lid on their fuel-cell products, but the A7 is only large, premium fuel-cell car on display.
It's a plug-in hybrid powered by two electric motors that are fed by a fuel cell boosted by an electronic compressor, for a total 170kW/540Nm sent through a sophisticated electronic E-Quattro all-wheel drive system.
Audi says it has a 500-kilometre range, can reel off 0-100km/h in 7.9secs and power on to a 190km/h top speed.
Yet the company's technical director admits that there is no push for infrastructure to support such a vehicle. "What we are demonstrating with this car is that we are prepared for hydrogen cars as well," said Hackenberg, referring to the multiple fuel types it offers in other models.
The poster child so far is the A3, which – as well as petrol and diesel models – is sold in Germany as a natural-gas powered A3 G-tron (“G” for “gas”) while the plug-in hybrid Audi A3 E-tron goes on sale in Australia in March 2015.
The arrival of a hydrogen-powered A7 doesn't mean Audi believes this to be the way of the future. "I think there is a competition between the fuel cell and the next generation of battery-operated cars," Hackenberg said. "The performance of batteries is also increasing – for the future it will be possible to have a range of 500km in a normal passenger car with batteries, so we have to compare which technology is the winning one: we can't answer that now."
This means that the possibility of the A7 Sportback H-tron becoming a production reality is based upon customer demand, with Hackenberg saying the company will bring it to markets that demand it. Alternative fuel-friendly California is likely to be among those that adopt such technology early – hence the H-tron's reveal at Los Angeles.