x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Audi turns 100, celebrates 1 million cars produced

The German car-maker finds UAE drivers prefer big cars with big engines, compared with other parts of the world.

Peter Schwarzenbauer, Audi AG member of the board for Sales and Marketing with the new Q5 at the Audi showroom on the Corniche in Abu Dhabi.
Peter Schwarzenbauer, Audi AG member of the board for Sales and Marketing with the new Q5 at the Audi showroom on the Corniche in Abu Dhabi.

Audi reaches its 100th anniversary later this year. It has already celebrated by breaking one milestone - last year it sold one million cars for the first time in its history, overtaking both Daimler-Benz and BMW in the process. The company is nothing short of ambitious. Its latest television commercial shows a red Audi R8 V10 roaring through the streets of Maranello, the home of Ferrari, in Italy.

Parents cover the eyes of small children so they don't get influenced, and riders of scooters shake their helmets in anger. The message is clear: Audi has roared past its local competition and is setting its sights on the Italians. Almost wholly owned by Volkswagen since 1964, Audi benefits from sharing platforms with other members of the group and bulk purchasing, although its philosophy and design teams are wholly independent.

Some of Audi's designers don't even restrict themselves to cars. Its team in Munich recently produced designs for an Audi yacht that may never be built, but apparently showed how such a yacht would be built in the company's image. Germany is Audi's biggest market, followed by China and Britain. The company sold 7,732 cars in the Middle East last year, putting it in 18th position overall. Although Audi's design and technology is widely appreciated in the UAE, this year sales are down by 12 per cent.

However, sales last month are the strongest yet, leading the company to hope that the worst of the downturn is over. In what has clearly been a difficult few months for car makers, Peter Schwarzenbauer, a board member for sales and marketing, sat down to discuss sales, technology and his first car. QWhat kind of cars do they like here? A"If you compare it here with Europe, you would see that in Europe there is a trend of smaller engines, diesel engines and four-cylinder, turbo-charged engines. These are becoming more and more popular in Europe. Here it is still a good six-cylinder, eight-cylinder engine. The more cylinders the better. The more performance the better."

PJ O'Rourke, the US writer, said the problem with American manufacturers was that the cars were no longer designed by poets. They were no longer sexy cars. They were not good fun. Do you agree with that? Who designs Audi's cars? "I strongly believe that car design cannot be made by committees. You have to have three strong guys in the design centre who tell you the way to go. If you start to have democracy around design, I think you're going to miss the boat. We have a very small core team which is also very international. We have six, seven different nationalities in the design team. So if you go there and you listen to the language mix, it's quite an interesting atmosphere. And I think it's good for the product because you can incorporate different cultures. Because if you look at the street right now, if you look at the Audi portfolio, I think you can see it. I think we have the best looking portfolio in the market right now. We also, on purpose, put the designers outside the normal structure so they can do whatever they think is right for design."

How have things been for Audi? "We at Audi are still smiling. I think we are one of the few which are doing good. We finished 2008 with our 13th consecutive record year and sold over one million cars for the first time ever. And at the beginning of January, I think we were the only car company who gave ourselves a clear target for 2009. We said that we are going to be down 10 per cent and we expect that the world market is going to be down 15 to 20 per cent. So, with us down 10 per cent we expect to grow market share quite a bit. In the first five months, we are down 12 per cent. So we are moving in the right direction. We gained market share all over the world."

Any markets stand out as good or bad for Audi? "I would say for the first time ever, looking at January to May numbers, we are now number one in volume in Europe. We overtook BMW and Mercedes for the first time in our history. This is how we measure if we are successful, compared to our main two competitors. China is our most important market, right after Germany. Last year, we sold 128,000 cars in China, and I'm pretty sure that this year for the first time we're going to sell more than 130,000 cars."

How important is the UAE market for Audi? "You have to see the long-term potential. It's also difficult here, of course, right now but the real potential is in the next several years. We want to grow above 10,000 units, towards the 15,000-mark in the Middle East as a whole." How do things look ahead for Audi? "I think what we can see now on the road map is that we believe that the market has now bottomed out. We don't see it going down further. For the last two, three months, we have been quite stable. At a lower level, but quite stable."

What is your take on the Porsche and Volkswagen saga? "The combination of having Porsche within Volkswagen Group, I think, will be good for all the brands. Now, how to resolve all this, I don't know. I think you have to be part of the family to know the inside track." What about the similarity between Porsche cars and Audi cars. Will there be some overlap? "We do a lot of cross-shopping research with all other brands and between Audi and Porsche there is very, very little cross shopping going on. It's a different kind of customer. And you have it today already, so what changes if the ownership is different? We still have our own brands, our own models out there. This doesn't change to the outside world. I think we can still live with a Q7 and a Cayenne."

What was your first car? My first car was a BMW 3 series convertible. But you have to know I worked nine years for BMW. I was 25, and until 25 I drove a used car that my Dad gave me. What car do you drive now? An Audi RS6. It's very dynamic, I like to drive fast. I can say this here, you know. In Europe, it's dangerous to say that you like to drive fast. It's really a fast car and is high performance.

aligaya@thenational.ae rwright@thenational.ae