INGOLSTADT, Germany— Audi is working hard for respect in America. But that’s only among people who haven’t yet driven the cars. Those who drive Audis know that the other side of Volkswagen knows something about making premium, ultra-competent sedans and wagons.
Audi of America will sell around 90,000 vehicles in the U.S. this year. The improvements to the 2002 A6 ought to help it hit the 100,000 mark by 2003. Believe it or not, Audi executives are not in a hurry to hit that milestone before then.
The truth is that Audi needs to grow slow in order to let its dealer body—a beleaguered bunch with barely a brand to sell just seven years ago—catch up. “The heart of Audi is technology,” says Audi of America marketing chief Martin Trahan. “And we are moving almost too fast for our dealer body to keep up.”
Look at Audi’s sales chart for the last decade and it looks something like a fishhook. Go back 15 years and it resembles a horseshoe. False, but well-publicized, charges in the mid-1980s that the old Audi 5000 suddenly accelerated out of control all but killed the brand. Thanks to time, and some top-drawer products, those days are well behind Audi.
Trahan acknowledges that Audi is a “tier two” luxury brand, frequently cross-shopped by car buyers against Acura. “But we're working on getting above the line,” said Trahan pointing to a marketing chart that showed Jaguar, BMW, Mercedes and Lexus above a line, with Audi and Acura below the line.
The 2002 Audi A6 offers a bonus that European drivers have been enjoying since 1999, the Audi mutitronic continuously variable transmission. This baby replaces the Tiptronic tranny in the A6. And it is just about the smoothest automatic on the road.
The Multitronic is a wonderful transmission. We tooled around some lovely Bavarian villages on twisty roads, and out onto the autobahn. The shift from one gear to another (there are six in all) was velvety smooth.