The redesigned flagship A8L - the L stands for long wheelbase - will compete with the Mercedes-Benz S class and the BMW 7 series. The sedan goes on sale June 12 in the United States with a suggested retail price of $69,190, which includes a $690 destination charge.
Audi expects to sell 3,000 A8L sedans this year and 5,000 in 2004. The best year for the outgoing model was 1999, when Audi sold 2,481 A8s.
Hunt says Audi will be able to sell more of the new models because the brand's image has been catching up with the product technology: "The image development and the product development are finally coming together," he says.
The A8L is equipped with just one engine for the U.S. market: a 4.2-liter V-8 that generates 330 hp and peak torque of 317 pounds-feet starting at 3,500 rpm. It has a six-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic, which allows the driver to manually shift gears without a clutch.
Hunt says the new A8L is part of Audi's climb into what he calls the Tier 1 of automotive brands, a level occupied by Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Lexus and Jaguar.
He concedes that Audi is positioned in Tier 2 with Saab, Volvo and Acura.
Hunt expects to fill some gaps in his U.S. product lineup with an A3 five-door hatchback expected in model year 2005, and Audi's first crossover vehicle based on the Pikes Peak concept in the same timeframe.
"The A8L is so important for us, because if we can get this right, this will shoot us along that arrow into Tier 1 positioning," Hunt says. "You really can't be a Tier 1 manufacturer unless you have a flagship like this."