E-mobility’s come a long, long way.
Before there was the Audi RS e-tron GT there was the Elektrowagen DKW Schnellaster van from Auto Union – how things have changed.
2 March, 2021
The two-stroke was replaced with a 4.8kW electric motor that was powered by two sets of lead-acid batteries
With the world of e-mobility and the performance potential of vehicles like the new Audi e-tron GT quattro and RS e-tron GT hitting exciting new heights, it’s interesting to take a look at some of the earliest e-vehicles to come from the early days of the brand.
The idea of electrically-powered road vehicles goes back to the early 1900s but such were the compromises in terms of performance and range that they were simply not a viable mainstream proposition when compared to the power and relatively inexpensive operation of the combustion engine.
But while this was the general rule, there were some commercial exceptions that spawned some of the earliest examples to emerge from Auto Union and these included the likes of municipal transport or deliveries over short distances.
One such vehicle was the Elektrowagen based on the DKW Schnellaster van, a limited edition vehicle, but not for the reason we now think of limited editions. This compact delivery van was developed towards the end of 1955 when Audi Union GmbH in Ingolstadt teamed up with battery manufacturer VARTA to produce the all-electric model.
The DKW Schnellaster van was not a new model, but had seen extensive service powered by a two-stroke petrol engine. In this new Elektrowagon guise though, the two-stroke was replaced with a 4.8kW electric motor that was powered by two sets of lead-acid batteries that offered 200 amp hours of power running at 80 volts.
This arrangement was enough to give the Elektrowagen a range of around 80 to 100km with the batteries fully charged and a top speed of 40km/h. Power went down to the road through the front wheels and the styling was … well, it was a van.
Compared to the lightening RS e-tron GT it it minuscule performance. With its 350kW and 390kW on boost, generated by two electric motors and delivering more than 470km of range, it is a far, far cry from the diminutive electric DKW Schnelllaster. Likewise its 0 to 100km/h time of 3.3 seconds and top speed of 250km/h, electric quattro all-wheel drive and styling that is simply superb – it is the performance EV of today. But when the Elektrowagen was presented at the 1956 Hanover Fair, it was viewed as a vehicle that served a very real purpose and did it on purely electric power – a rarity for the time.
Just 100 of the little e-vans were ever produced between 1955 and 1962 (hence the earlier reference to ‘limited edition’), with the bulk being used by power companies or on the Wadden Islands, in the North Sea where internal combustion engines were not allowed.
Of the original 100 that were made, most were lost to time, but in 2015 Audi Tradition got hold of one original example and had it fully restored to its former glory and put on display at the Museum Mobile in Ingolstadt.
This arrangement was enough to give the Elektrowagen a range of around 80 to 100km and a top speed of 40km/h
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