DETROIT - Len Hunt, the new head of Audi of America Inc., is developing a five-year plan for U.S. sales to top Audi's high-water mark of 74,061 set in 1985.
Audi will have the product necessary to surpass that figure, but that is just one facet of his strategic plan, Hunt said during an interview with Automotive News.
Hunt, 43, was director of Audi UK for nearly five years. He began his new assignment Jan. 4 as vice president in charge of Audi of America in Auburn Hills, Mich.
While setting a sales record is an enticing prospect, Hunt's goals go beyond building sales. Hunt wants to add models, improve the dealership network and hone Audi's brand image.
'I've got to not only get the numbers but put an infrastructure in place that sustains it, because the worst thing we could do is mismanage that growth,' Hunt said.
Hunt, a native of the United Kingdom, takes over for Gerd Klauss, who was named president of Volkswagen of America Inc.
Now, with record Audi sales in reach, Audi of America will not rest, Hunt said.
'The worst thing that could happen is you could sell 74,000 cars and I'm reading in all my research reports, 'Hey, that's terrific, I can't get it serviced anywhere, I can't get a spare part, (and) every time I turn up at an Audi dealer, he's dealing with 28 other people. This is an Audi experience?'' Hunt said. 'We can't do that, because that is lethal.'
To top the record, he needs critical mass in product and sales to persuade 258 U.S. dealers to open more exclusive dealerships.
Audi has rebounded in the United States with its trio of A4, A6 and A8 sedans and wagons during the past five years. Audi of America sold 47,517 units during 1998, its best year since 1986.
Audi's target is 60,000 units by the end of 1999, Hunt said.
The Audi lineup expands in May with the 2000 TT Coupe. It has a turbocharged, 180-hp, 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine. A quattro all-wheel-drive version will be offered in summer, and a more powerful 225-hp engine will follow in 2000. Audi's TT Roadster arrives late this year or in early 2000.
The lineup gets deeper with more horsepower. The Audi S4, a high-performance version of the A4 sedan, debuts here this fall packing a 250-hp V-6 engine. The A6 gets a second engine in late summer, a 4.2-liter V-8 with 300 hp.
'I think on the product side, all of us in Audi of America are pretty excited about that conveyor belt, dare I say, of product coming through,' Hunt said.
Audi now has 25 exclusive dealerships in the United States, and 39 dealerships have separate Audi showrooms. Audi dealers have committed to another 113 stand-alone dealerships or separate showrooms.
It is easier to make a business case for exclusivity with critical mass - hot product and more coming in the near future, he said. But Hunt wants dealers to invest in more than just concrete, glass and mortar.
'The most important thing we can invest in during this next phase of our strategy is our people, the people who live, eat, breathe and sleep Audi,' Hunt said. 'We need to be absolutely committed to training all these people. There's no point in having an exclusive network if the people in it aren't all trained.'
After four consecutive years of double-digit growth, Audi will see a growing number of cars coming back in for service, parts and accessories, Hunt said. Dealership personnel must be well trained in Audi product, he said.
'I'm going to be putting a huge amount of effort into that, almost trying to wrap it together in a school or academy,' Hunt said.
Brand marketing also is in his plan, possibly centered on feelings triggered by the TT Coupe.
'If ever a car was the embodiment of what Audi is, it's that,' Hunt said. 'The purity of it, the simpleness, the emotional content, the almost uniqueness of that car. It says it all.'