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R8 Helping to Fortify Audi

Considering that the R10 diesel-powered racecar has surged to the forefront in racing and helped further establish the high-performance potential of diesel engines, we wondered why the automaker decided to launch its upcoming mid-engine, Le Mans–themed R8 sports car with a gasoline V-8. Why not differentiate the R8 from the rest of the market by packaging it as a high-performance diesel exotic, with Audi’s new V-12 oil-burner, an engine derived from the Le Mans–winning engine?


The twin-turbo V-12 TDI makes 500 horsepower, and with 738 lb-ft of torque would outgun even the 510-hp V-10 gasoline engine — a version of the mill used in the Lamborghini Gallardo — that’s on the way for the R8 next year.


“The market is not expecting such a car” at this time, said an Audi AG spokesman, who explained that, emissions worries aside, the U.S. just isn’t ready for a high-performance diesel sports car yet. “But never say never.”


Germany , the U.K. , and the U.S. are expected to be the top markets for the R8; a diesel exotic would likely be well received in Europe, where diesels are widely viewed as a premium engine and they make up 60-70 percent of new car sales in Germany and throughout Europe . That ratio is substantially higher in some markets, like Austria , where about 90 percent are diesels.


For now, in the U.S. market Audi plans to establish a small diesel presence with its SUVs. Beginning this fall, the automaker will make the 3.0-liter turbodiesel, with 233 hp and 368 lb-ft of torque, available to U.S. customers on the Q7 luxury SUV, and it’s expected that the upcoming Q5 will have a U.S.-market diesel option. A top Q7 model with the diesel V-12 remains an eventual possibility.


But while the R8 looks like a winner for the brand’s image, it’s just part of the plan. To establish Audi as a top-tier ‘prestige’ brand in the U.S. , an equal of Mercedes-Benz or BMW, fortifying the sales and service network is a priority. According to Audi AG sales and marketing chief Ralph Weyler, in the U.S. Audi aims to achieve that by increasing the number of exclusive dealerships but not the total number of dealerships — currently at 245. Currently, the brand only has about 100 exclusive stores in the U.S. but hopes to double that number over the next several years by replacing shared facilities with stand-alone ones.


So far, 120 dealerships — less than half of Audi’s 245 U.S. stores — are approved to sell and service the R8, according to Weyler, and that number isn’t likely to grow much larger. In order to be approved, the automaker required additional investment in each facility, including a special area of the dealership for R8 customers. All dealerships will be trained to do bodywork on the R8.


Although the automaker won’t release expected sales or production figures, it says that the R8 is already sold out for its first model year. Because of the degree of hand-construction along with a rigorous quality protocol, the factory at Neckarsulm could only produce about 20 of the sports cars daily, at full tilt, amounting to about 4000 annually.


At a glance, the R8 looks like a sure-fire way to bring more prestige and sex appeal to the Audi name. Check back soon as TCC takes a closer look and gets behind the wheel of this new exotic.



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