French automotive supplier Valeo says it’s inked a deal with Audi that will see the German automaker using electric supercharger technology on a production vehicle as early as next year.

They don’t say what that vehicle will be, but it’s been suggested the Q7 crossover will be Audi’s first foray into electric forced induction.

Supercharging is an umbrella term for any kind of forced induction-based power-adder, but the tech is split into two types: a turbocharger uses exhaust pressure to generate boost, while the specific design commonly referred as a supercharger is powered by a belt run off of the engine’s crankshaft. Valeo’s design more closely resembles the intake side of a turbocharger with an electric motor where the exhaust turbine housing would be.

Valeo names a number of advantages compared to exhaust- and belt-driven superchargers. One is that because the unit is self-contained and doesn’t require a belt or exhaust flow to make it work, the device can, in theory, be placed anywhere in the engine bay, simplifying the engine’s design. Valeo also says its design “eliminates” the turbo lag typically associated with exhaust-driven systems, and in turn boosts low-end torque and improves throttle response.

For years, sites like Ebay have been littered with electric turbo- and supercharger kits that promise performance gains for less than $200 and are an easy sell to people with little comprehension of the concept of too-good-to-be-true and even less understanding of physics.

Valeo’s system is the real deal, and comes along as automakers are flocking to turbocharging to combine big-motor power output with small-engine fuel economy. But it’s a curious solution to that problem, because it introduces a parasitic drag to a car’s electric system, which can potentially have a negative effect on economy. For its part, Valeo says its electric turbo makes a fuel saving of eight to 10 percent achievable on its own, but that using it in concert with the company’s “energy recovery system” (upon which Valeo’s website doesn’t elaborate but we assume is something like Mazda’s i-ELOOP setup) can boost that saving to something like 15 to 20 percent.

We’re looking forward to seeing this technology in action, but are just as dubious as to whether it can both improve performance and fuel economy more than a traditional exhaust-driven turbocharging arrangement.

Valeo electric turbocharger

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