The new Audi A6 is a direct competitor to the BMW 5 series

Audi has big plans for US market

Berlin/Ingolstadt. While parent company Volkswagen AG tries to minimize the damage done by the unsuccessful Golf startup, Audi is proudly demonstrating its strength.

The European launch of the new medium-sized Audi A6 took place in six trendy European capital cities at the same time.

In Berlin Audi even managed to turn Wolfgang Clemens, the German minister for economic affairs and a professed Audi business car user, into an advertising medium: "An excellent car indeed," said Clemens at the launch.

Audi calls the A6 the "sportiest business sedan" on the market. It hopes for annual global sales of at least 180,000, which would be an increase of more than 10 percent compared with the sales of its predecessor.

The model is aimed directly at BMW 5 series customers. This is signified by the high-torque engine, which comes in a 140hp to 335hp range and, according to Audi, opens up "a new dimension of driving dynamics."

The car has a strikingly sporty exterior design and the redesigned instrument panel. The instrument panel is arranged in a semicircle around the driver, just like the BMW 5 series.

Audi boss Martin Winterkorn pushed for a sharper, more dynamic design for the A6 during the final development phase.

The new design also is targeted at younger customers. Until now the average age of A6 buyers was 57; with the new model, it is hoped to fall to 53.

The A6 will be available in April. More than 80,000 units are expected to be built in Neckarsulm, Germany, this year. Audi invested 530 million euros in the development and advanced product engineering of the A6. Nearly 60 percent of the 13,700 employees at Neckarsulm are working on the car.

The A6 Avant, which also will be available with air suspension for the first time, will follow in March 2005. There no longer will be an all-road-quattro version.

In December the A6 will be launched in the US market. Beginning in 2005 Winterkorn hopes to sell more than 50,000 units a year of the A6, which would nearly triple 2003 US sales of 17,585 units of the current model. Audi said US dealers were "enthusiastic, without exception" at the presentation of an A6 prototype.

In Europe a big TV and print media advertising campaign will support the March 11 sales start of the A6. The total budget is approximately 30 million euros.

The contract for the campaign went to the agencies Bartle Bogle Hagerty and Saatchi & Saatchi. The message? "We will demonstrate that the A6 follows its own rules, without compromise," Audi marketing boss Michael Trautmann said.

Pearl Harbor director Michael Bay directed the TV commercial. Dustin Hoffman plays the lead, and his character has a close resemblance to his part in The Graduate. He kidnaps a bride-to-be from the altar in the new Audi A6 -- but this time it's his film daughter.

"In regard to image, Hoffman is just right for us," Trautmann said.

Hoffman's reward for his advertising support will be an Audi A8.

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