NAIAS 2007: Audi Recap
Audi used NAIAS 2007 to continue its relentless diesel drum beat which began here in the US back in March with the R10 racecars historic TDI-powered win at Sebring. In support of its diesel marketing it chose to debut the US-market bound Q7 V6 3.0 TDI and the monster Q7 V12 TDI Concept, the worlds fastest and most powerful SUV. Interestingly, one of every two Audis sold worldwide utilizes a diesel power plant, yet in the US Audi currently has no TDIs for sale. That will of course change with the just-announced Q7 3.0 TDI.
Unfortunately that vehicle is not slated to go on sale until mid-2008. It will however meet diesel engine regulations in all 50 states when launched.
Incoming Audi Chairman Rupert Stadler (a bit nervous, and rightfully so considering that both new VWAG boss Dr. Winterkorn and the astute Dr. Piech sat in the front row watching) used part of his first major auto show press conference to speak to the virtues of Audis clean and powerful Bluetec TDI engines. The company still believes that the average US consumer sees diesel as dirty, noisy and without performance characteristics, and thus it goes to great lengths to dispel these myths. The R10 racecar has, of course, shown tremendous performance capabilities while running both cleaner and more fuel efficient than similar gasoline competitors. Audi hopes that by the time it actually has a TDI model in the US market many potential buyers will have been well educated about diesels advantages across the board.
In the end Audi will simply need people to drive the cars and experience TDI for themselves, but creating the marketing buzz (stories about the Q7 3.0 TDI and Q7 V12 TDI appeared quickly in everything from US Today to Edmunds.com) is also key. In fact it was one of the more lively automotive press conferences in recent history as Grammy winner Seal took the stage and sung ‘Crazy’ with its repeating chorus of “in a world full of people only some want to fly… isn’t that crazy”. The analogy was fitting in reference to the 5.5 second 0-100km Q7 V12 TDI, and Seal turns out to be a Q7 driver himself and a good spokesman for the brand.
Audi volunteered that by 2010 they hope for a 10-15% TDI market share in the US. Representatives also talked mentioned the fact that unlike hybrids sold by competitors, there is essentially no limit to the number of diesels that Audi could or would be willing to supply in this market.
Take a close look at the photographs of the Q7 3.0 TDI show car since it included both exterior and interior options that may or may not become orderable in the future. On the outside the car was shod in highly polished chrome wheels and included a blacked out single frame grille. This particular grille look owes its roots to Audi of America which first pitched the idea as part of the A4 S-Line Titanium Package configuration. As deployed on the black Q7 it looked perfectly classy, if not downright menacing. The interior included a dark wood-treatment steering wheel, but also ultra-high grade two-tone leather seating (complete with detailed stitching). The dash and shift boot were also leather with matching stitching and the whole package was completed via floor mats with coordinated piping trim. Again, these options were all put together to help show off the Q7 3.0 TDI, but could be part of a customized interior/exterior offering for the entire Q7 S-Line lineup. We were given an estimated price range of $5500-6500 should the package come to fruition.
We cant say enough about the Q7 V12 TDI show car, having really bought into the very aggressive grille, accent lighting, front and rear titanium-colored body trim and of course the enormous wheels. We have heard lately that when it comes to sizzling, formal looks that white is the new black and the paint on this particular show car was rich, highly reflective and downright stunning. The interior of the vehicle was also crisply executed in white and silver.
It goes without saying that this model Q7 will be very expensive and will not be an everyday sight. When pressed Audi officials said that it had definitely not be ruled out for the US market and the speculated price tag would be well over $100,000. Interestingly the fuel economy of the mighty V12 TDI engine is only 15-20% lower than the 3.0-liter TDI power plant.
We picked up a number of other tidbits at the show and have a couple of in-depth features planned. In the meantime here is a rundown of the most interesting news.
The A5 Coupe will absolutely debut at the Geneva Motor Show in late February. Audi representatives we spoke to described the car as stunning and beautiful, with one going as far as to say it gave him goose bumps the first time he saw it.
An S version of the A5, an S5, has already been designed and its launch is a forgone conclusion. Audi officials are toying with the idea of to launching it simultaneously with the A5 in Geneva, which would mark the first time a standard and S version of a model were launched at the same time. The S5 will employ a 350-horsepower FSI engine mated to a 6-speed manual transmission.
The A5, as per previous disclosures, will be the first Audi to employ the new MLP platform. MLP stands for Modular Longitudinal Platform and indicates, as the name sounds, that setup with be a modular solution set to service not only the A5, but the upcoming next-generation A4, Q5, A6 and A8. Everything from electronics to drivetrains can be interchanged meaning that Audi will be able to customize architecture for each model as required.
MLP enables tremendous economies of scale by allowing Audi to start with one common platform for many different cars. From a functional perspective MLP moves the engine and transmission further back behind the axle which results in significantly improved handling and driving dynamics. In essence the A5 becomes more of a front/mid-engine layout with a reduced front overhang.
For those familiar with platform designations the A5 will be called a B8. That makes it a B8 coupe, and the first glimpse at what the redesigned B8 A4 might look like both from a frontal exterior perspective and an interior perspective.
R8 pricing continues to be a closely guarded secret, although we were surprised to learn that Audi of America expects somewhere in the neighborhood of only twenty US dealers to sell the R8 in its first model year. With 200 vehicles allotted to this market that means that dealers will be selling on average ten vehicles each. It has been reported that R8 dealers will be required to step up to a 6-figure cost which includes showroom and display prep, sales and technical training and marketing expenses. We had certainly expected more than twenty initial dealers, but perhaps this allows Audi to focus the vehicles into the hottest coastal markets while at the same time making the program financially viable for the dealers involved.