An ambition too far for Audi?
But many industry observers say Audi is unlikely to succeed for three reasons:
Audi’s perceived shortcomings in green technology are one of the main reasons it will be hard to catch BMW, the current No. 1, some analysts say. While Audi keeps reinforcing its sportiness, archrival BMW appears to be giving increased development -- and marketing -- priority to fuel efficiency.
BMW is “setting the pace” on technology to reduce CO2 emissions,” said Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, director of the Center for Automotive Research in Gelsenkirchen, Germany.
“Audi is just not producing cars with the same level of innovation that BMW is doing,” he said.
Audi disputes any technology disadvantage. “We have highly efficient dynamics in our engines,” Audi CEO Rupert Stadler told Automotive News Europe on the sidelines of the Automobilwoche Congress in Berlin last week.
Closing the US gap
Sales and marketing director Ralph Weyler told ANE at the Tokyo auto show last month that, besides ever more efficient diesels, Audi models will offer further optimized Volkswagen group engines, hybrid models and other alternative-fuel-propelled vehicles.
Analysts say Audi’s other weakness is North America. It aims to sell 200,000 cars a year in the US by 2010 and Weyler is optimistic. With plans to launch “the right products” for the US market and to improve the brand’s image further, “we’re closing the gap with our competitors,” he said.
But analysts are skeptical.
“Audi appears to have no new ideas on how to overcome poor sales in the US,” Dudenhöffer said.
A third factor that may thwart Audi’s global ambitions is the big goals set by rivals Mercedes and BMW.
All three European premium-car makers hope to capitalize on growing demand for luxury cars. But market growth is unpredictable and analysts forecast less growth than the combined projections of the three carmakers.
Moreover, BMW, Mercedes and Audi are all facing increased competition from volume carmakers moving upmarket. And Japanese competitors Lexus and Infiniti are expected to win a growing share of the core European market in coming years.
The global sales goals of all three “are very ambitious considering the strong competition, especially in Europe and in the US,” said Stefan Bratzel, director of the Center of Automotive at the the University of Applied Sciences in Bergisch Gladbach near Cologne, Germany.
Audi has set an ambitious target of selling 1.5 million cars by 2015. That is more than the projected sales for rivals BMW, the current biggest selling luxury brand, and the No. 2 premium brand Mercedes-Benz.
CEO Stadler said Audi will stay true to its sporty brand image while offering fuel-efficient technologies.
He told the Automobilwoche Congress that Audi is the fastest growing luxury brand and it has climbed to become the market leader in some segments.
“China is virtually our home market and India has great potential for us,” he said.
Though CO2 emissions from Audi’s new-car fleet are lower than those of BMW or Mercedes, analysts question whether that will continue.
“Audi needs to look at the weight of its cars. They have become heavier to be more sporty,” said Christoph Stürmer, an automotive analyst at Global Insight in Frankfurt.
Audi’s new A4 and A5 models will get get stop-start and brake-energy regeneration next year. The fuel-saving technology will go into most models within the next two years
In 2006, Audi’s CO2 emissions average was 187 grams per kilometer, compared with BMW’s 189g/km and Mercedes at 197g/km, according to the latest data from consulting company AT Kearney.
Automakers do not make public the CO2 emissions of their car fleets.