Audi A7 H-Tron Quattro Hydrogen Fuel Cell (CONCEPT)

Written By: Brittney B.

Edited By: Assen Gueorguiev

The Audi Prologue took center stage at the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show, thanks to a winning combination of sporty and luxurious features that hint at models to come. However, the German automaker debuted another concept at the same event, and this one is even more fitting for the future. The Audi A7 Sportback h-Tron Quattro is a groundbreaking glimpse of what could be possible if cost and energy alternatives weren't an issue. It's both a plug-in hybrid and a hydrogen fuel cell sedan, and the efficient powertrain that makes this combination possible is a huge leap forward for Audi.

Proving Audi's power potential

By all accounts, the hydrogen-powered A7 is a prototype that's merely intended to showcase Audi's mastery of hydrogen fuel cell technology. It's not slated for future production, but it's still giving competitors a reason to worry, as Audi is more aggressively joining the market for plug-ins and hydrogen-powered vehicles. It also offers some exciting new tweaks to both categories, thanks to engineering decisions that are as creative as they are efficient.

The most impressive technologies and design strategies can be found in its exclusive — and completely electric — powertrain, which keeps torque and horsepower high while eliminating emissions and maximizing efficiency. Unlike typical hybrids that also rely on a combustion engine, or typical hydrogen cell vehicles that require hydrogen refueling, this sedan has both hydrogen tanks and a battery that can be recharged at electric sockets. This battery also charges itself, through braking technologies that can provide up to 31 extra miles of range, on top of the estimated 310 miles total.

Audi At h-Tron Concept (Hydrogen Fuel Cell)

Other energy-saving strategies

Some of the model's efficiency can also be blamed on its layout and design. As the "quattro" in its name implies, there are four separate hydrogen storage tanks beneath the hood, exactly where a combustion engine would be on the original A7. And according to Audi, the A7 Sportback has absolutely nothing to connect its front and rear axles, which are powered independently by twin electric motors. Electrical power is distributed efficiently throughout the entire vehicle, from the tanks in front to the motor that powers the rear.

There are also superficial factors that make the A7 Sportback much more efficient than its combustion-based namesake. For example, the exhaust system is constructed out of lightweight plastic, which is only possible because its emissions are pure water. There are even cooling circuits for the lithium-ion battery and the motors, as well as a triple-port converter that reconciles the differences between the battery and the hydrogen fuel cell, enabling the synergy that makes the vehicle so special.

This green powertrain isn't just a working concept for Audi (though it will surely improve and evolve before it reappears in a production car). Designers and developers have already promised that they're now capable of launching a fuel cell vehicle — but only when it's finally feasible. External forces are also at play, especially because hydrogen fuel cells are such a new concept. Market demand for hydrogen-powered vehicles must increase, along with the number of available charging stations, in order to turn a car like the A7 into a money-maker.