In the space of just 12 months Audi has released three different concept vehicles classified under the new "e-tron" designation so it's safe to assume the automaker has ambitious plans, either for the e-tron name itself or what it represents: electric vehicles.

According to latest reports both facts are true. That is, Audi plans to use the e-tron name for its future electric vehicles. Similar to its quattro labeling, Audi's new electric vehicles will wear an e-tron badge, signifying that the cars are running an electric motor(s) instead of a conventional internal combustion engine. In fact, just like the separate quattro GmbH, Audi has launched a new e-tron division solely for the development of its future electric and hybrid vehicles starting in 2012.

Currently, the e-tron division has about 100 employees and is headed by Franciscus van Meel, Audi’s senior vice president of vehicle electrification.

Audi’s first e-tron model will be based on the all-electric R8 concept car that was unveiled at last year's Frankfurt Auto Show. The e-tron model will borrow the R8's basic platform and should benefit greatly from its lightweight aluminum spaceframe. It will be built in a limited run of just 100 cars at Audi's factory in Ingolstadt, Germany in 2012. If popular Audi plans to lift production to around 1,000 units per year though no decision has been made on how or where the cars will be built in the longer term.

Unlike its rivals, such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz, which are promoting their electric cars as a low cost and environmentally friendly option for urban commuting with their respective Megacity and all-electric Smart ForTwo, Audi is targeting the top end of town by promoting the performance aspects of electric propulsion--instantaneous torque. Note, Mercedes-Benz is also working on an all-electric SLS AMG supercar.

That’s why the first e-tron model is expected to be Audi’s most expensive model ever offered, which means it will cost more than the $156,300 R8 V-10 FSI. The car’s expensive lithium-ion battery technology is another reason for its expected exorbitant pricetag.

After the first R8-based e-tron, Audi will launch smaller and more affordable versions. Expect another model based on the third e-tron concept from last month’s Detroit Auto Show, which itself is a previewing of an upcoming R4 sports car.

"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.

Launching e-tron cars is part of the company's plan to meet an expected increasing demand for zero emission cars. Some other all-electric Audis rumored to be in the works include a family of ecological models called the "E" series, which will run from an entry-level E1 right up to an E5.

[Automotive News, sub req’d]