HERNDON, Va. -- In a brightly lit fourth-floor conference room nestled in a swath of Virginia forest that could double as a bit of Bavaria, Audi of America President Johan de Nysschen slides a thick handbook across the table.
"It's a pledge," de Nysschen tells his visitors. "Every dealer who accepts our plan has to sign it."
The oath -- autographed by Audi's dealer body when the German automaker rolled out its revamped U.S. dealer training program this summer -- is more than just a paper promise to raise customer satisfaction.
De Nysschen, 50, a hard-charging, straight-talking South African with a dry sense of humor and a small smile, wants a commitment.
"I will not be happy," he says, "until we are among the top three" in customer satisfaction.
The ongoing question: Can Audi deliver on its end of the deal?
"There are still an awful lot of Americans that do not know what Audi is," said Rebecca Lindland, director of strategic review at IHS Automotive in Boston. "They do not have the brand recognition that BMW and Mercedes have."
After decades of fits and starts, underperformance and promises of renewed ambition, Audi is on fast-forward with its North American plan. It is making its play with smaller premium cars as well as large sedans, introducing diesels, increasing marketing and improving the customer experience at the dealer level.
"We are in year five of a 10-year plan for development in this market," de Nysschen said in a recent interview. "We reached the point where the next phase is needed to roll out and add firepower to the brand."
The wave Audi wants to ride is sales of 200,000 vehicles by 2015 -- an ambitious plan to double U.S. sales within five years.
"If you are a surfer, you will catch it," said de Nysschen, "or it will pass you by."
This year Audi will top its 2007 high for U.S. sales of 93,506, and possibly hit 100,000. But that's still a pittance compared to its German competitors.
Mercedes will sell 228,000 vehicles in 2010 and is forecasted to sell 320,000 in 2015, according to IHS Automotive. The BMW brand will hit 215,000 this year and 325,000 in 2015.
Nearly 24 years to the week since an ambitious brand was decimated by a "60 Minutes" report on unintended acceleration, Audi wants to be a contender. But there are lingering questions.
"They have very attractive product, but they do need to increase their brand awareness and their dealerships and the dealership experience," Lindland said.
Those deficiencies are on top of Audi's to-do list.
Scott Keogh, Audi's 41-year-old chief marketing officer, citing internal data, said brand awareness, consideration and showroom traffic have reached record levels. Sales are up 22 percent through October, topping Mercedes' gain of 20 percent and BMW division's 10 percent. Now Audi wants more of those coveted Mercedes and BMW buyers who have been reluctant to move to the brand.
Audi's U.S. commitment is "the strongest it has ever been," said Tom Harper, owner of Harper Audi in Knoxville, Tenn. "That is not some political-speak from a German -- it is coming from the board and [Audi AG CEO Rupert] Stadler and Johan. I think they have put their money where their mouth is."
Audi's plan encompasses four facets, each essential to growth: