Audi Plans Q5, Four-Door Coupe



Audi’s big ambitions are being underscored by an aggressive product program that will soon fill some big holes in the German automaker’s lineup. New coupes, SUVs, and sports cars, expanded diesels, and a new high-performance version of its trademark quattro all-wheel drive, all are part of a global push to boost sales to 1.5 million by the middle of the next decade.


But even bigger things are planned for the U.S. market, revealed Audi of America’s chief executive, Johan de Nysschen, noting that while there are no hard plans in place, senior officials would like to see U.S. sales more than double, to 200,000, sometime between 2012 and 2015.


To get there, Audi needs to move from the fringes of the luxury market into the mainstream. And it’s readying an aggressive product program aimed at getting there. But with exchange rates heavily out of kilter, company officials are looking at still other options that could include producing a unique-for-the U.S. product at a plant Audi would share with its sibling Volkswagen division.


In recent months, the automaker has launched a second-generation TT and the all-new R8 supercar. Before year’s end, it will follow with the high-performance RS4 Cabriolet, the new S5 Coupe, and a mid-cycle update of the top-line A8 sedan. For 2008 and early '09, Audi brings a range of products, including the new A4, the downsized Q5 SUV, and a diesel version of its bigger Q7. But that’s only the beginning, hinted de Nysschen.


“Before 2012,” he said, during a lengthy conversation, there will be a coupe-like sedan, similar in concept to the Mercedes-Benz CLS. It will be sized “partly between an A6 and an A8, and will share elements of both.”


By then, look for a variety of derivatives of the new R8 coupe, de Nysschen added. A cabriolet version seems likelihood, as will a range of new and “more powerful derivatives,” perhaps including a V-10 edition. There is also some consideration to doing a high-performance diesel version of the R8, which Audi could link to its R10 race car, which has been dominating the Le Mans race series.


Diesels are going to be a major differentiator for Audi, said the South African-born executive. The automaker’s first clean diesel will debut during the first quarter of 2009 – about three months later than originally planned – in the Q7. While there are no officials plans to use the 3.0-liter turbodiesel in any other product, de Nysschen acknowledged that powertrain was chosen because it would be easy to transplant into a range of other Audis, starting with the next-generation A4.


Audi recently modified its quattro all-wheel-drive. In some performance models, the system is now biased towards the rear wheels. An even more advanced but as yet unnamed version of quattro is under development and will first appear in a version of the new A4, probably in 2009.


Described as a “vectoring” all-wheel-drive system, it will not only be able to shift torque between the front and back, but direct power to individual wheels, using torque to “vector,” or help guide the car through an aggressive turn.


“It’s expensive,” de Nysschen said of the new system, so it will likely carry a premium that is expected to run at least $1000 above existing versions of quattro.


Like the bigger Volkswagen brand, Audi will be moving its U.S. headquarters to suburban Washington, D.C. , next year. The move should help Audi get “closer to its customers,” said de Nysschen. It may also lead both brands to finally take the leap into U.S. production. As previously reported, VW hopes to decide, in the coming months, whether to build a new American assembly plant. And one way to make a financial case could be to share that factory with Audi.


That would certainly help both brands deal with the difficult shift in exchange rates – the Euro now trading at nearly a 40-percent premium against the dollar. But de Nysschen cautioned that it wouldn’t necessarily be easy to build VW and Audi products on the same assembly line. So the luxury marque is studying all its options, including a new product that could be geared specifically for the States.


“This is not a must,” he explained, “But if it’s feasible, we would like to exploit the opportunity.”


The upcoming move has Audi executives – both in the U.S. and Germany – looking at all their opportunities. Martin Winterkorn, the former Audi chairman who now heads the entire Volkswagen Group, has laid out a plan, dubbed Route 15, that would aim for 1.5 million sales, worldwide, by 2015, a roughly 50-percent increase from today.


That would require a big jump in sales in the U.S. market, where Audi lags far back from its German luxury rivals, BMW and Mercedes, and Japan ’s Lexus. So far this year, Audi volume is up around 11 percent and approaching an all-time record of around 100,000. But to secure its financial future, de Nysschen hinted, would require boosting the numbers closer to 150,000. And top managers would like to nudge that closer to 200,000.


Product will be the key to making such big games, though Audi has to address other problems, including its dealer network and marketing. So, for the moment, the carmaker is testing the waters with products like the R8 to see just how much room there is for future growth.

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