The arrival of the 2001 Audi TT Roadster in May and the Allroad quattro in the fourth quarter has Audi of America Inc. poised to break its sales record in the United States this year.
On top of those new products, Audi's 'center of gravity' in the United States is shifting from the A4 sedan to the larger and more profitable A6 sedan, said Len Hunt, vice president of Audi of America.
Audi expects to sell 5,000 TT Roadsters and 5,000 TT Coupes this year in the United States and Canada, Hunt said in an interview. Those numbers are based on Audi's expected allocation of TTs rather than on a sales forecast, he said.
Audi AG, the parent company, will build 55,000 TTs this year for sale around the world.
'So we're scratching for what we can get,' Hunt said. 'It's an interesting question in America, the notion of how high is high when you get a car like this. Given free supply, God knows what it would be.'
The 2000 TT Coupe is priced at $31,025, including the $525 destination charge. The optional quattro all-wheel-drive system is an additional $1,750. Preliminary prices for the 2001 TT Roadster are around $34,000 for the version with the 180-hp, turbocharged 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine, and under $39,000 for the version with the new 225-hp powerplant.
Audi's Allroad quattro is a sport wagon based on Audi's A6 Avant wagon. It will debut in the fourth quarter as a 2001 model.
'The U.S. I presume will be the biggest market for that car,' said Walter Hanek, marketing director at Audi of America.
Audi of America expects this year to surpass its sales record of 74,061 in 1985. During 1999, Audi sold 65,959 cars in the United States, an increase of 39 percent, and the fifth straight year of double-digit growth.
'For the second year in a row, we are Audi AG's No. 1 export market,' Hunt said.
Audi dealers in the United States are selling an average of 255 cars per outlet, the highest ever, he said. In 1994, dealers sold an average of 41 Audis a year.
Officially, Audi of America forecasts sales of 75,000 in the United States, but Audi executives quietly acknowledged that that forecast is conservative, especially with the new TT Roadster on the way, a full year of TT Coupe sales and two more A6 models.
By breaking the sales record, Audi of America finally may be able to emerge from the controversy over unintended acceleration that sent the company's U.S. growth in 1986 into a tailspin.
'We certainly are going to celebrate,' Hanek said. 'This is for us a very important point in time, to reach that mark of 75,000. It was a dream.'
Audi's strategy to shift the 'center of gravity' in the United States from the A4 to the larger A6 is working, Hunt said.
The A6 was redesigned for the 1998 model year and initially was available only with a 2.8-liter V-6 engine. While A6 2.8 sales took off, there was one common criticism: It was underpowered.
So for the 2000 model year Audi has added two new A6 models - the A6 2.7 T and the A6 4.2 - expanding the A6 range with two new engines. The A6 2.7 T has a turbocharged, 250-hp, 2.7-liter V-6 engine, and the A6 4.2 is equipped with a 300-hp, 4.2-liter V-8 engine.
The automaker also gave its A6 2.8 quicker acceleration from a stop and during passing with a modified torque converter and a shorter final drive ratio, Hunt said.
The A6 2.8 now serves as the entry level in the A6 range. The A6 2.7 T is in the middle, and the A6 4.2 is the premium model. A6 sales, including the two new models introduced in October last year, were 26,131, up 44.8 percent.
During 1999, A4 sales represented 49 percent of all Audi sales in the United States, down from 56 percent in 1998. A6 sales represented 40 percent of Audi sales during 1999, up from 38 percent in 1998. Hunt expects the shift toward A6 to continue this year.
Now Audi can offer customers coming off A6 2.8 leases two ways to upgrade and remain an A6 customer, Hanek said.