NAIAS 2009: Audi Shows Strength During Difficult Times
The current state of the automotive market doesn’t need to be re-hashed here in detail. Times are tough for all. GM and Chrysler are begging for money while teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Daimler’s CEO, Dieter Zetsche, has suggested these are the worst times since World War II. BMW’s boss, Norbert Reithofer, has gone so far as to say it’s their worst crisis for his brand ever as their sales sharply fell at the end of 2008 to close the year nearly 5% down from 2007.
Bad news for everyone, right? Not exactly. Audi has shown a volume increase every year since 1996. 2008 was no exception, giving them 13 straight years of record sales. Audi rounded out ’08 by breaking through the 1,000,000 worldwide vehicle sales milestone while boosting 2007’s figures by 4.1%. Audi also remains the most profitable marquee in the VAG group. All in all, that’s not a bad way for Audi to enter 2009 – its 100th anniversary (as proudly displayed on their show booth).
This begs the question, why is Audi doing so well despite the others’ struggles? The answer to this could be debated at length. That said, when viewing the innovative, progressive, and unique group of vehicles on display at the Audi booth in Detroit this year it becomes clear that the cars themselves continue to propel Audi closer to catching its German luxury car rivals.
Audi’s R8 is a nice car. Understatement of the year, right? The R8 has received universal accolade for being the epitome of an “everyday supercar”. It offers exotic looks, surprising practicality, and a performance envelope that few can match. It’s also an Audi which means you get sure-footed AWD and an interior likely nicer than any piece of furniture in your house. We know it. We love it. We beg to drive it. Complaints are few, but it is no secret that this great performer could be elevated to a notch past unbelievable if it only had a bit more power. Audi listened, and revealed the R8 5.2 V10 FSI quattro in Detroit.
The ten cylinder variant of Audi’s R8 promises to bring a new level of performance to the German brand from Ingolstadt. This dry sump direct injected all aluminum powerplant (569 lbs) is similar to the 5.2 liter mill in the new Gallardo. Power output is pegged at 525 PS, 517 SAE HP, or 386 kW. In any unit, that’s a lot. Torque has also risen to over 390 lb-ft. By offering a stratospheric RPM limit of 8,700, this engine has taken the crown for the highest mean piston speed of any production engine in the world. That’s over 26.9 meters per second for those who care, faster than some modern Formula 1 engines. Audi’s conservative stopwatch (Audi engineers probably wear mechanischen Uhrwerken) claims 0-60 times in the high 3 second range, 125 mph in about 12 seconds, and the V10’s power losing the battle to wind resistance at beyond 195 mph.
The visual changes are subtle. Dual oval tailpipes replace the V8 R8’s quadpipe arrangement. The wheels are different, though it’s our feeling that the V8 version has the aesthetic advantage in the rolling stock department. The center grille slats on the V10 car are more defined with chrome accents. The functional sideblade air intake vents also seem to be enlarged, which is expected considering the V10 should be swallowing over 30% more air charge. The show car seen in Detroit was adorned with the optional carbon ceramic braking system to ensure fade isn’t in an R8 owner’s vocabulary. Just as with the V8 R8, two transmission variants will be offered: a traditional gated 6-speed manual and the automated R-tronic (Lambo e-gear single clutch).
Equally attention grabbing was the debut of the A7 Sportback concept. Touting practicality, Audi has committed itself to bringing more Sportback designs to its portfolio. After seeing this concept, no one will doubt the stunning good looks either. The A7 will be a 4-door coupe variant of the more traditional A6 sedan. In addition to the lavish white leather interior appointed with a textured wood trim, the A7 is also introducing a new lighting concept to showcase what future Audi models may be equipped with. We also hope some of the other interior design cues find their way to production Audi vehicles; the dash and control layout look exceptional. The fully clear roof is an interesting touch. Word is Audi is looking to make the overall vehicle interface simpler while still offering the high level of technology and features owners expect. That sounds like a step in the right direction to us.
Propulsion of this concept car comes from Audi’s proclaimed “cleanest diesel in the world” powerplant, AKA the 3.0 TDI V6 with regenerative particle filter and “Bluetec” SCR oxidation catalyst system. This same engine will be available in US showrooms in just a few months under the hood of the Q7 SUV. In 50-state legal ULEV II Bin 5 trim, the 3.0 TDI will offer 225 hp and 405 lb-ft of torque. During Audi’s “Mileage Marathon” promotional cross country road trip, the Q7 3.0 TDI in 7-passenger trim returned over 33 mpg while crossing the US in real world conditions.
A beautiful white Q7 TDI was on display in Detroit complete with a multi-shade Audi Exclusive interior and Bang & Olufsen premium sound system. Further committed to providing the cleanest and most efficient luxury vehicles on the market, Audi has announced that the A3 will be available at the end of 2009 with a 4-cylinder diesel option as well. This venerable 2.0L TDI unit will come bolted to an S-tronic DSG gearbox and front wheel drive. The A3 TDI will offer a desirable blend of performance and efficiency with 140 hp, 236 lb-ft, and the potential to exceed 50 mpg as also proven during the Mileage Marathon. The A3 also will be 50 state emission legal with no aftertreatment system required.
Further convincing us that Audis look stunning in white, a supercharged A6 3.0T was put on display. This vehicle is currently hitting showrooms and should be available now. This supercharged V6 is nearly identical to the engine found in the upcoming S4, with some minor electronic changes to alter the power delivery. Audi has changed the “V6T” badge on the fender to a “Supercharged” badge featuring a carbon fiber S-insignia logo. We feel this is a good move (the T causes confusion as there’s no turbo!) and hope this badge engineering carries over to the S4 platform as well.
Lastly, a bright red S4 was put on display, giving us a tease on what to expect later this year. As we’ve reported in the past, we’re a fan of this new B8 S4 model and appreciate the direction Audi is taking. The improvements in performance and efficiency showcase the “Vorsprung durch Technik” moniker.
After 100 years of selling cars, Audi has shown they are stronger than ever. They’ve experienced 13 consecutive years of record sales, and are poised to continue with a strong marketplace performance despite industry wide hardships. Products like clean and efficient TDI diesel, the unparalleled R8 V10 and the A7 Sportback paint a solid picture on why Audi as a brand has done so well in the past and will continue to excel in the future.