November 21, 2002
There was a distinct hint of revolution when a car sporting the four-ring badge was used to transport the British heir to the throne during his official visit to Munich on November 7, 1987: the vehicle in which the Prince of Wales travelled during his official state visit to the Bavarian capital was an armour-plated Audi 200 quattro. In such a prestigious context in which other brands were accustomed to holding court, this signalled a particularly auspicious new departure. Audi has since become a regular feature of top international political and society events. Heads of government, monarchs, business leaders and other VIPs are chauffeured in safety and comfort in the silver Audi A8 cars at state visits, EU and World Economic Summits, NATO Summits, ministerial meetings and at sporting and cultural events such as the Kiel Regatta, the Salzburg Festival and the Cannes Film Festival.
There are further such major events looming large on the horizon: for example, Audi cars will be in operation at the NATO Summit in Prague on November 21 and 22, and at the event marking the end of Denmark’s presidency of the EU on December 12 and 13 in Copenhagen. In 2003, the Ingolstadt-based manufacturer will be deployed throughout Greece’s presidency of the EU in the first half of the year, and at the 58th Annual Meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Dubai, from September 16 to 26.
Hans-Peter Hagemeister, who is in charge of the Limousine Service at AUDI AG, recalls the idea that prompted the whole venture: “Our prime motive was that we wanted to publicise quattro drive and boost the image of the Audi brand.” This engendered the technique of enlisting VIPs as “ambassadors of the Audi brand”. All this was back in 1986, with the underlying principle being to “convey not just people, but an image too.” This principle remains equally valid today.
Under the guidance of Dr. Ferdinand Piëch, Audi was first entrusted with the task of providing a joint chauffeur service with BMW and Mercedes-Benz at the 1984 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. From 1986 on, Audi then provided this service in Davos on an exclusive basis. Hagemeister recalls a revealing anecdote from those early days: the Bavarian Prime Minister of the day, Franz-Josef Strauß, was travelling in Davos in another make of car. His car eventually became stranded because of the wintry conditions, so he was picked up in an Audi with quattro drive.” The leader of the CSU party was very impressed, and Audi had gained a foothold in the world of politics.
Likewise in 1986, Audi assembled its first armour-plated, or high-security, vehicle and submitted it to the Bavarian State Office of Criminal Investigations for official acceptance. Hagemeister explains: “We were not allowed to become involved in state visits until we had obtained this accreditation.” The brand with the four-ring badge underwent its baptism of fire later on that year, when Audi provided transport for King Carl Gustav of Sweden during an informal visit to Germany. The pennant which protocol requires at an official state visit first adorned an Audi 200 during the visit by Prince Charles in November 1987.
“Over the years we have built up a very high reputation among government departments,” adds Hagemeister. “We have achieved this with high-grade products, a broad range of services, supreme flexibility and quality and ultra-efficient organisation. The overall concept is what counts.” This is clearly appreciated by state chancelleries, the Department of Foreign Affairs, the EU, ministries, foreign governments and many other bodies.
Audi provides the vehicles and assures servicing for an event such as an EU summit, and takes charge of transporting the cars to and from the event venue. The organisers are responsible for the cost of the drivers, the fuel and any parking or garage costs. “We insist on an exclusive agreement,” explains Hagemeister. This means for example that the French President Jacques Chirac and the British Prime Minister Tony Blair will both arrive in an Audi.
Audi was first deployed at EU level during Germany’s tenure of the presidency in 1994. The list of events at which Audi has provided a chauffeur service is now as lengthy as it is illustrious. Here are just a few examples: as well as numerous state visits, Audi has been in action at all events during the EU presidencies of Germany, Portugal, Spain and currently Denmark, at various ministers’ and OSCE conferences, NATO summits, G7/G8 World Economic Summits (Cologne and Genoa) and bilateral Franco-German consultations.
The Ingolstadt-based vehicle manufacturer has in addition acted as mobility provider during the Pope’s visit to Hungary, at the World Economic Forums in Davos, and at political party conferences, royal weddings in Spain and Belgium, high-ranking doctors’ congresses, the Salzburg Festival, the film festivals in Cannes, London and Paris, the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival, concerts starring the “Three Tenors” and Herbert Grönemeyer, the World Architecture Congress in Berlin, the Kiel Regatta and countless major corporate events.
An immense amount of effort goes into preparing the chauffeur service for such events. According to Hagemeister, more than two years may elapse between initial contacts, e.g. with the government departments in question, and the actual event. The intervening period is peppered with negotiations and consultative, coordinating and planning meetings. Because when it comes to the actual event, the organisation has to be perfect, security correspondingly tight and the entire proceedings scrupulously calculated. Nothing is left to chance: this supporting service has to be as impressive as the products themselves. This is why Audi has a policy of taking on no more than ten events of this size each year, on top of its involvement at meetings hosted by the EU President. Hagemeister elucidates: “We actually receive around 100 enquiries each year.”
The “fleet” of the Audi vehicles which make up the Limousine Service comprises 100 conventional long-wheelbase Audi A8 cars and 20 armour-plated versions of the A8. The fleet is currently being updated, and the new Audi A8 is due to be in operation at the NATO Summit in Prague. The entire fleet is in action at major events. And if need be, Audi can supply additional luxury limousines.
The central fleet depot is a large, high-security hall near Ingolstadt. The vehicles are transferred from there to the event venue by truck or, if need be, by ship or aircraft if they are destined for overseas. At foreign venues, Audi’s local importer takes charge of organisational matters, always hand in hand with the head office in Ingolstadt. By way of a supporting service, an entire fleet of VW Caravelle minibuses is also available. Audi cooperates closely with Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles to provide these. “This ensures that the group in the wider sense establishes its presence at such events,” adds Hagemeister.
In the run-up to the event, the drivers selected by the organiser are put through an intensive driving and safety training course by professional Audi instructors and familiarised with the Audi models. Hagemeister explains: “This aspect is of fundamental importance. After all, the drivers need to be in perfect control of their vehicle in order to respond correctly in hazardous situations and keep their VIP passengers safe.”