March 12, 2007
By: Kris Hansen
“RS5, why Not?” – Mr. Rupert Stadler, Chairman of the board of directors Audi AG.
Yes, we asked the question; we asked it whenever we could. The most common response offered by senior level Audi executives was, “can’t you just enjoy this beautiful new car?” Well, of course we can! It’s gorgeous!
There was a crowd around the newly unveiled Audi A5 (all three versions of this new model that Audi had on display) for two full days that we were at the show. In fact, the entire Audi stand was positively buzzing. Audi’s current lineup of cars has them positioned quite well indeed.
Stadler reinforced that Audi made a profit last year (and this is good), however he was clear to point out that they are trying to avoid growing too fast. Audi does not want to find itself in a situation where there are too many models and too many vehicles being produced at once since this could result in the company having to take drastic measures to move its cars. Audi wants to grow at a deliberate and steady pace by focusing on quality over quantity.
There is no question that everybody at Audi is very excited about the A5 / S5, both mechanically and emotionally. It’s a bit of a departure for Audi to focus so much on emotion, but given that the car’s chief designer (Walter De Silva) is Italian it works for us. De Silva was in fact quite expressive and emotional when he talked about this new car, and is clearly proud of the overall achievement. That De Silva has moved over to VW now should not worry Audi fans when it comes to future designs; not only will he be available to Audi still, but the incoming design chief (coming over from Alfa Romeo) trained under De Silva.
Audi deliberately released the A5 and S5 side by side in Geneva. The manufacturer is fully aware of its developing market, especially in North America, where buyers tend to want a little more power, luxury, and looks, than the “standard” base cars. While the A5 certainly holds its own in those categories, the S5 is special. Based on our conversations, Audi executives were asking themselves about the rationale for waiting a year or more to release the S5 which some buyers would want immediately.
Audi is gearing up for another good year of sales in the USA, and representatives from this side of the pond believe that the A5 / S5 will help overall sales. The car will be the first true Coupe from Audi since the 90’s Coupe quattro, and this car without a doubt creates a stronger emotional bond than the venerable Coupe quattro. We think it is safe to say that it exudes more of an emotional response than any other cars in the current Audi lineup, save for the R8 and RS4. Audi needs a stylish coupe of climb higher up the foodchain in America. Now that they have that product they will concentrate on brand positioning.
The company also realizes that it has a problem keeping tabs on the American dealers. In conversation with Ralph Weyler (Board Member for Marketing and Sales) he asks specifically about Audi’s sales in the US. Our suggestions centered around improvements to the dealer structure, and specifically in the service area. While there are many great Audi dealers in the US, there are in fact also some lousy dealers which have had the unfortunate ability to drive potential owners away from the four rings. Audi, for its part, claims to be keenly aware of this issue and working on solutions.
R8 Still Creating Buzz
As much attention as the A5 / S5 garnered, it was hard to miss the gorgeous R8 twirling on its stand near the middle of Audi’s booth. Just as with the new A5 / S5 it seemed there was never any down time for the R8 – it was always surrounded and being admired.
Is the R8 a direct competitor to the 911? We can summarize many Audi executives’ responses to that question by saying that it was not Audi’s intent, but that the company appreciates comparisons to such established brands as Porsche, Ferrari and Lamorghini. No, all along it was simply Audi’s goal to to build a super sports car that would be incredibly road competent, fast, safe, and most of all would feel like an Audi. Sure, it shares some bits with Lamborghini, but let’s be honest is this really a bad thing? The structure of the car is home grown, and after seeing the aluminum space frame with its cast and extruded aluminum pieces artistically welded together we couldn’t help but think of it as a work of art.
Mr. Stadler was asked in our press conference if other engines would find their way into the R8. While we still believe that larger powerplants will eventually appear, Stadler calmly responded: “Our order books are full til a year so we’ll keep with what works for now which is the high rev V8.” Don’t look for a V10 or TDI engine in the R8 for at least another year.
One of the best things about the R8 is that it was built from the start not to be a trophy car, but rather fully useful as day-to-day transportation. Audi assured us that two sets of golf bags would fit behind the front seats. Actually getting in and out of the car is very easy (the doors open wide) and the openings are suitably tall for those of larger stature. There is also decent storage for bags in the nose.
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