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BMW, Audi show off rival visions

The escalating rivalry among Germany's premium automakers was fully on show at the annual financial results conferences of Audi and BMW.

Audi gave two strong messages to industry watchers and reporters at its event in Munich last month:

    • Audi is not just a single brand. It now oversees Volkswagen Group's three Italian subsidiaries -- Lamborghini, Italdesign Giugiaro and Ducati.

    • Audi is raising its game in the world's two biggest markets -- China and the United States -- with the A3 sedan. Audi gave reporters a preview of the model, which is designed to win American and Chinese buyers who shun hatchbacks and wagons that are popular in Europe. The A3 sedan will have its public debut on April 20 at the Shanghai auto show.

A week after Audi's event, BMW hosted reporters at its BMW World exhibition center next to its global headquarters in Munich. BMW already is a group with its Rolls-Royce, Mini and motorcycle divisions.

The automaker used its conference to highlight its i3 electric car, a model designed as an environmentally friendly personal transport option for the world's growing number of megacities.

BMW asked Juliet Schurz, a professor of sociology at Boston College in the United States, to talk about the i3's potential buyers. She mentioned bourgeois bohemians -- or Bobos -- who combine a bohemian lifestyle while working in high-wage bourgeois corporate jobs. I tried to imagine what a Bobo looks like but failed.

Audi left nothing to the imagination when it introduced its latest acquisition, Ducati. The audience was given earplugs as Ducati Team drivers Nicky Hayden and Andrea Dovizioso gave a roaring demonstration of the Desmosedici GP13 MotoGp race bikes in front of the audience gathered in Munich's former central post office.

The bikes deliver "over" 235 hp and have a top speed of "over" 330kph. Audi made no mention of their decibels output but trust me; these bikes were loud, really loud.

I prefer Vroom Vroom to Bobo.

You can reach at lciferri@crain.com

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