|January 10, 2005
NAIAS 2005: Audi Recap
As stated in the preview article leading up to the 2005 show, we weren't expecting anything too major to be announced in Detroit this year. Still, with NAIAS being the biggest and most important of the North American auto shows, attendance is always required.
With Audi coming off a year-over-year sales decline in the US and the shakeup involving Axel Mees in November, it was important to put a strong, united face on 2005. To that end the press conference was attended by both the Chairman of parent VW - Bernd Piechetsrieder - and Martin Winterkorn, the Chairman of Audi AG. In fact Winterkorn did a good deal of the speaking before giving way to new Audi of America VP Johan de Nysschen for some brief comments.
Despite the difficulties in the North American market, which Winterkorn attributed to new A4 and A6 model rollout timing/availability, Audi actually did have its best year ever on a worldwide basis, and set new production records. With regards to North America, Winterkorn also said that this market is "driven more and more by SUV's and crossovers" and admitted that there is a "declining market for sedans". It seems that despite the importance of the A4 and A6 sedans to Audi's North American success, company officials now understand loud and clear that the upcoming Q7 fills a large gap in the product offering.
As with last year, there was some discussion of Audi's motorsports efforts both from 2004 and for the upcoming season. It is no secret that Audi hones many of its production technologies on the racetrack and has enjoyed tremendous success in recent years both with its R8's and more recently the DTM cars. Winterkorn didn't disappoint the ALMS officials who reportedly had come to Detroit seeking confirmation of Audi's ongoing involvement by announcing that together with partner Champion Racing they would be defending ALMS and Le Mans titles in 2005. Audi will also continue in DTM in 2005.
A number of cars at the show were making their first North American appearances, including the 5-door A3, the A6 Avant and the B7 A4 / S4.
We were particularly interested in the A3 since it represents a completely new model for Audi in the North American market. The question remains whether it can attract the on-the-go buyer that Audi is hoping for. In all probability it will come down to price, or more specifically whether the Audi gives potential buyers that much more value for their money than similar non-luxury offerings.
What is clear is that the A3 is not a stripped down Audi. The award winning Audi interior is completely intact and the accustomed German luxury appointments - doors with a reassuring thud, tremendous safety systems, innovative engine and design technology - are all there. This is a package that doesn't have many direct competitors, and combined with the Open Sky System offering it pretty neat packaging. In fact we wouldn't even consider this car without the unique roof system.
That being said, we aren't following the logic of launching with only a single engine variant and no quattro. The V6 with DSG and quattro should be remarkably more exciting to drive, so why not launch with both? Also, and this still remains a big question mark, will the North American market be able to cozy up to a 5-door hatchback as a luxury car? We're rooting for it's success - and the eventual launch of an S3 here - but are going with guarded optimism at this point.
The A6 Avant just looks magical with the optional BBS wheels as shown on the show car. de Nysschen mentioned summer 2005 availability for the car in North America and made what we thought was a fitting statement, that Audi continues to use the name Avant for "the most beautiful estate cars". The A6 Avant has, in our opinion, always been a stylish wagon compared to the Bimmer and Mercedes-Benz offerings and, assuming one likes the new front end treatment, has clearly continued to evolve positively.
The new A6 Avant has a few goodies hidden away. They are usually included in Audi's press release documents, but need to be seen to be appreciated. These include an ample storage compartment hidden behind the rear, fold down seats (a custom subwoofer application is just screaming to go in there) and an automatically opening and closing rear lid. Literally at the touch of the handle or an interior button the rear lid gracefully opens and closes - a nice feature for somebody with an armful of grocceries for instance.
In terms of the B7 A4 and S4 we'll go out on a limb and say that we are becoming big supporters of the singleframe grille and are still up in the air about the new rear end. One way of characterizing the subtle change would be to say that the car is starting to look less A4ish and more ?. It has something to do with the shape of the taillights relative to the trunk lid where everything now has a very straight, vertical look to it.
One thing we were giddy about was the new Navigation Plus system in the A4. It is so nice to see this technology make its way to the B-segment, and the new screen appears to be a real upgrade from the previous generation. Additionally, at the touch of a button the screen slides down and out to reveal the DVD slot (for the navigation DVD) and two media slots to bring MP3's into the vehicle. When the car is setup like this the owner will still get 6-disc CD capabilities in the glove box.
Turning lastly to the Audi allroad quattro concept car, it was the surprise that Audi pulled out for the Detroit show, and one intended to compliment Audi's 25th anniversary of quattro all-wheel drive. Many readers have already started asking whether this was indeed a concept or actually a good look at the next allroad model. We asked and Audi spokesperson about that specifically and was told to "look at the technology and appreciate what Audi can do in future vehicles". While a somewhat vague answer, we gathered that this is in fact just a concept car, albeit one packed with goodies that we can expect to find in future Audis.
Perhaps the coolest feature of the allroad quattro concept was the demo next-generation MMI system. Using an intergrated camera system, as well as feedback from many of the car's systems, the system can record a driver's route and then display it in 3D along with real-life digital photos. Information such as direction and lateral angle can also be included. The screen itself appeared to have much higher resolution than current generation offerings.
Not to be left out, rear seat occupants in this car get their own MMI controls and can even play video games on integrated headrest screens.
One gimmick feature, almost along the lines of James Bond, is wheel lug nut covers that open and close via remote control. This not only keeps the visual appearance of the wheels "clean" but acts as a security feature as well.
Martin Winterkorn was very deliberate in speaking about the high performance diesel engine, noting that the time had come to continue pushing Audi's innovative diesel technology even further. The engine in the allroad quattro concept is the first V8 diesel Audi has shown, but probably an indication of things to come.
In last year's summary we noted that 2004 would be an interesting year for Audi of America to see if it could continue its sales momentum. In retrospect we now know that it was a challenging year, meaning that the ongoing pressure on 2005 is just that much greater.
Winterkorn was optimistic about 2005 based primarily on two factors: 1) the new vehicles now in Audi's lineup; and 2) Johan de Nysschen as the new leader in North America. de Nysschen, in the words of one of Audi's public relations staff "lives, eats and breathes Audi". He was instrumental in turning around Audi Japan and now sets his sights on making the US the #1 import market again (a title lost to the UK in 2004).