Q&A: Stadler confident Audi will keep lead over Mercedes despite product trough

Rupert Stadler: "We are in the midst of the greatest internationalization and investment push in our history."

Audi CEO Rupert Stadler is confident that his automaker will remain the world’s second-largest premium brand after BMW this year despite a product trough and a big challenge from fast-growing Mercedes-Benz. He explained why during an interview with Automobilwoche Editor Guido Reinking and Reporter Pia Krix. Automobilwoche is a sister publication of Automotive News Europe.

Audi has no new high-volume vehicle joining the lineup this year, while BMW and Mercedes have a number of new products. Is this a problem?

We are in the midst of the greatest internationalization and investment push in our history. Last year we opened two new plants, one in Foshan, China, and another in Gyor, Hungary. In 2016, another new plant follows in Mexico while we are launching production in Brazil [at a VW plant]. We are also investing 22 billion euros in the development and production of new models by 2018. Today we are sowing and we will reap the harvest tomorrow. Anyone can generate volume with a new model. There is no trick to that. It is a greater achievement to remain attractive through the use of intelligent model upgrades when part of the lineup already has been in the market three or four years.

Mercedes grew faster than Audi and BMW in the first quarter. Are you worried Audi will end up as No. 3 in global premium sales this year?

No. We are really relaxed about this. So far, we have introduced more than 50 special shifts at our German locations. We have doubled our global deliveries in the past 10 years and increased them fourfold in the last 20 years. In 2013, the total was nearly 1.6 million cars. That is the result of consistent brand management. We are playing offense and remain the market leader in Europe and China.

Is being first in sales really the most important thing?

It would be too simple for a brand like Audi to focus solely on sales. We are going a step further and are betting on limitless customer enthusiasm, maximum satisfaction and maximum product quality. Growth yes, but not at any cost.

At the end of 2020, you won’t push a little more volume onto the market to reach your goal of being No. 1?

No, not me. If you start buying market share, you will lose in the medium- and long-term.

Germany’s three premium brands are close to one another in volumes and the capacity to innovate. Why will Audi be No. 1 in 2020?

In motor sports, one fast lap is not nearly enough to settle the race. We are well trained and are setting a fast pace. These are the best possible factors to takes us to the top of the ladder. And between now and 2020, we will go the extra mile and climb to more than 60 models [and variants from 40 now].

Meet the boss
NAME: Rupert Stadler
AGE: 51
MAIN CHALLENGE: Boosting 2014 global sales without the addition of any high-volume new models to the lineup.

You want to continue to increase sales in 2014. Is your forecast based on China as a growth market?

We are No. 1 in China. At our plants in Foshan and Changchun, we are building two SUVs, the long versions of the A4 and the A6, the A3 Sportback and A3 sedan. We are positioned more broadly than any of our competitors.

Audi can access the modular kits from parent Volkswagen Group. How does this help?

This isn’t a one-way street. VW also accesses Audi’s modular kits, and this is a good thing because it strengthens both brands and the entire group. The calculation is quite simple: modular kits make the growing complexity manageable in models, technologies and powertrains, along with factories and high-level company processes. None of our main competitors can match the number and variability of derivatives that are possible with the modular transverse matrix.

And the longitudinal matrix developed by Audi?

It is the same: it makes us flexible, whether we have a classic internal combustion engine or an E-tron [battery-powered model]. From the A4 to the A8, we are prepared for every powertrain.

Is it true Audi r&d chief Ulrich Hackenberg delayed the next A4 and Q7?

It is true that Ulrich Hackenberg is one the best developers in the world.

Does that mean that Audi has not pushed these models back?

Our models are in the target corridor. No natural law says that a successor has to follow after a specified number of years. Our models remain current until the very end and we make sure they have the most up-to-date technology.

This story is from the current issue of the Automotive News Europe monthly e-magazine, which is also available to read on our iPhone and iPad apps.You can download the new issue as well as past issues by clicking here.

You can reach Guido Reinking at pkrix@craincom.de

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