Audi’s Identity Issue

By Gary S. Vasilash

2018 saw the launch of the Audi e-tron, the German’s first production EV. Even then knowing where the interest was developing (things like the Tesla Model S notwithstanding), the folks in Ingolstadt determined that an SUV was the body style to launch.

Since then, Audi has sold about 150,000 of the vehicles.

Audi Q8 e-tron. (Image: Audi)

Maybe they figured that what the heck an “e-tron” was was something that kept it from gaining significantly more traction in the market.

So for the new model the name has been changed to “Q8 e-tron.”

The company had some equity in the Q8 name for its SUV. So it has appended it to the electric variants (there is also the Q8 Sportback e-tron).

Audi puts it: “By renaming this model the Q8, Audi is making a clear statement that the Audi Q8 e-tron is the flagship model among its electric SUVs and Coupe SUVs.”

Perhaps that will resolve what is arguably an identity crisis in the market.

However, the company goes on to maintain, “The Audi Q8 e-tron and Q8 Sportback e-tron are immediately identifiable as fully electric models, marked out by the new front and rear designs that carry Audi’s electric design language forward.”

There it may be a bit misled. The whole “immediately identifiable as fully electric models” is more than a slight exaggeration.

It was probably that sort of thinking that led Audi marketers to think back in 2018 that prospective customers would immediately know that the e-tron was an electric Q8 by another name.

Seems that that didn’t work out particularly well sales-wise.

Audi 80: Not a Throwback

Audi A80 (Image: Audi)

This is the Audi 80, which came out 50 years ago. Were something like this to come out now with an electric powertrain it would probably be a massive hit, the fact that it is designed and engineered to be a family sedan notwithstanding.

The vehicle, which was internally known as the “B1,” had a run through four generations, until the mid-90s, when it was replaced by the A4.

The A4, incidentally, is in its fifth iteration.

Sunk Anticipation

By Gary S. Vasilash

One of the things that hasn’t been mentioned about the burning then sinking of the Felicity Ace cargo ship, the vehicle carrier that caught fire on February 17, then sank this week in the Atlantic, is that there are now some 4,000 customers who are not going to be getting their Bentleys, Audis, Porsches, Lamborghinis, and Volkswagens anytime soon.

While there isn’t a specific brand or model delineation, Porsche has acknowledged that about 25% of the vehicles that are now sunk (possibly the charred husks of said vehicles), let’s face it: When it comes to Bentleys and Lambos, there is an inverse relation between their volume and their MSRP, so even if there are but a few, that is undoubtedly a big chunk of the estimated $438-million worth of cargo on board.

Audis, of course, are not inexpensive, but compared to the other three, not nearly as much. And Volkswagens, of course, are the everyman accessible brand among the group.

But those brands (all, incidentally, under the umbrella of the Volkswagen Group) are, like any right now, be it Ford or Toyota or Kia, still facing the chip shortage. Which means the ability to make vehicles is still restricted.

Which means there are some order-holders who will find their wait has just gotten that much longer.

Premium Vehicle Perspective: Depends Where You Look

When looking at charts developed by French auto analyst firm Inovev of the sales of premium vehicles in the U.S., China and Europe for the first 11 months of 2021, there are a few surprises.

As in sales of 2 million in the U.S., 3 million in China and 2.5 million in Europe.

It’s not surprising that the number is higher in China than in the other two regions. After all, it has a population of 1.4 billion.

It is a little surprising that the numbers break as they do, given that the population in Europe is 748 million, which is about half of that in China and slightly more than twice the population in the U.S. The 500K increments seem strange given that.

Clearly wealth is not evenly distributed, with the U.S. having a higher proportion of its population capable of affording a premium vehicle.

But the surprising thing is the relative sales of the premium brands in the three markets.

The five three brands in the U.S. during this period are BMW, Lexus, Tesla, Mercedes and Audi. Then there is a slight falloff in numbers.

The top five brands in China are BMW, Mercedes, Audi, then a big decline (Audi is at over 600,000 units) to Tesla (at 240,000) and Cadillac.

In Europe it is BMW, Mercedes, Audi, then a big drop to Volvo (Audi: >500K; Volvo: 245K) and Tesla.

While there is consistency with BMW, Mercedes and Audi, and while Tesla is certainly on a roll, Lexus is something of an outlier. It doesn’t show up at all in the listing of sales in China and in Europe it is in ninth position, behind Lancia and just ahead of Jaguar, all of which are well below 100,000 units.

Lancia doesn’t show up at all in the sales tracking for the U.S. and China, and in the U.S. Jag is in last place and it is third from last in China.

Seems as though the German brands are consistently solid around the world while for everyone else it is somewhat random.

Audi TT RS on Its Way Out in U.S.

But if you act quickly, you might get one of 50 special editions

By Gary S. Vasilash

In the first three quarters of this year Audi has sold 825 TT models. Which in the context of, say, the Audi R8 is good (496 through the first three quarters) but as all other Audi models (with the exception of the e-tron GT, which had sales of 462, but know that it didn’t go on sale in the U.S. until July, so that number is completely understandable) are in at least the four figures, the 825 isn’t all that robust.

Model year 22 is the last for the Audi TT RS in the U.S. market, so Audi of America is offering a limited edition—the Audi TT RS Heritage Edition—of which 50 will be on offer.

There will be 50 TT RS models available, 10 each in those five colors. (Image: Audi of America)

They are emphasizing the five-cylinder engine in the vehicle, although in a way that might not be apparent to anyone other than someone buying one, as they have a selection of five color combinations–Alpine White with Ocean Blue leather and Diamond Silver stitch; Helios Blue metallic Diamond Silver leather and Ocean Blue stitch; Stone Gray metallic with Crimson Red leather and Jet Gray stitch; Tizian Red metallic with Havanna Brown leather and Jet Gray stitch; Malachite Green metallic with Cognac Brown leather and Black stitch—and they are producing 10 each.

Two numbers of interest related to the TT RS Heritage Edition:

  1. It has a 174 mph top speed limiter
  2. The MSRP is $81,450

This doesn’t mean the end of the TT in the U.S. The TT and TTS models will continue to be available.

Random Audi Item

We’re not sure why we know about this, either. . .

By Gary S. Vasilash

Audi has sent out a press release indicating that the ERC Ingolstadt, the professional hockey team for Ingolstadt, spent an afternoon at the Audi Driving Experience Center in Neuburg on the Danube driving Audis.

Hockey players and Audis. (Image: Audi)

First they underwent a safety training regime, then drove things like the R8 and the e-tron GT.

At the end of the session, “the players accepted their new company cars” and had a barbeque.

And now you know something you probably had no interest in, either.

(If you are interested in ERC Ingolstadt: they will start their Deutsche Eishockey Liga season on September 10, when they’ll be facing off against the Bietigheim Steelers.)

Audi Race Car Sets Sales Record

It has only taken 5.5 years to achieve. . . .

By Gary S. Vasilash

The 138th GT3 model of the second-generation Audi R8 LMS has been produced.

That near-production race car (i.e., it share half of its components with the “regular” R8) has been on sale since the end of 2015.

So this means about 5.5 years.

138 cars.

(Photo: Communications Audi Sport customer racing / Bildagentur Kräling)

Audi notes that the first-gen version, which was in production from 2009 to 2015, had total sales of 137 cars.

Of all of the GT3 cars built by Audi (a total of 275 so far), there have been 13 vicoctires in 24-hour races, eight in 12-hour races, and a whole bunch more vicotires in the U.S., Europe and Asia.

Speaking of the second-generation besting the first, Chris Reinke, head of Audi Sport customer racing, said, “As we see in our competitive environment, it is by no means a matter of course that a successor is as commercially successful as the predecessor model or even surpasses it.”

Still: One car?

Audi’s Approach to Electric Vehicles

The Audi RS e-tron GT produces 590 hp, net. Just sayin’. . .

By Gary S. Vasilash

There are 14 vehicles in the Audi of America lineup. The best-selling model during Q1 was the Q5 crossover, with 14,731 units delivered. The vehicle that had the least amount of sales is the R8 sports car, at 148 units. This gives you a sense of the spread from top to bottom, as Audi sold 54,840 vehicles.

What is surprising is how well the e-tron and e-tron Sportback—electric vehicles—did for the brand, with the former accounting for 3,474 units and the latter 850.

Put another way, electric vehicles are a solid contributor to Audi’s overall sales.

The Audi Q4 e-tron. Part of the company’s electric offensive. It plans to have more EV models for sale in the U.S. by the end of 2021 than any other OEM. (Image: Audi)

And that number is likely to do nothing but increase. This summer the e-tron GT electric sports sedan will launch. With a starting priced of $99,990, odds are the numbers will be low. But there will be numbers.

But before the year is out, there will be two more models added to the electric Audi lineup, the Q4 e-tron and the Q4 Sportback e-tron.

Notably, the Q4 e-tron, a compact crossover, will have a starting price of under $45,000. And then there could be incentives and credits that could put people in an electric Audi for much less.

To learn about what Audi is doing in the EV space, on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” we talk with Matt Mostafaei, the Audi e-tron product manager. (The “we” consists of “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Stephanie Brinley of IHS Markit, and me.)

Mostafaei explains that one of the biggest challenges that they face with regard to getting more people to buy an e-tron is a lack of familiarity that they have with EVs. He suggests that once they’ve an understanding of the advantages that can be realized—like plugging in one’s vehicle at night, analogously to plugging in a phone, so as to have a full charge every morning—as well as the driving dynamics that are provided by an EV*, this will change.

While Tesla is certainly the dominant player in the category, and while Mostafaei says that they’d be glad to have Tesla owners or intenders come into Audi dealerships, he maintains that there is a far greater number of potential customers than just those who have gone the Tesla route.

Just think of all of the people who fuel their vehicles with gasoline. That’s a market.

Audi isn’t adding all of those EVs to its lineup just to be au courant.

As Mostafaei puts it, they see where the market is going and they’re going to help drive it forward.

In addition to which, McElroy, Brinley and I discuss a number of other vehicles, electric and otherwise, as well as the benefits OEMs—and consumers—can realize from tech like Ford’s just-introduced BlueCruise hands-free driving technology, and autonomous driving tech that will be shuttling people in Dubai—and which is shuttling pizzas in suburban Houston.

And you can see it all here.

Lichte on e-tron GT Design

When Marc Lichte, head of Audi Design, unveiled the Audi e-tron GT concept at the 2018 LA Auto Show, he described it as “The most beautiful car I have ever drawn.”

Audi RS e-tron GT prototype (Images: Audi)

Lichte even thinks that this vehicle—which will be unveiled in its production version on February 9—will become a new design icon for the brand, answering a question whether that is the case by saying, “Yes, without a doubt.” But he acknowledges, “A car must acquire this reputation on the road—in an overstimulated environment that creates the will to strive for orientation.”

Which presumably means: cars may look great in studios or on turntables at auto shows (remember auto shows?), but you’ve got to get them out in the real world where they exist in relation to other vehicles.

Lichte went on to day: “True design icons have something that is unmistakably clear: For example, it takes only three lines to characterize a VW Beetle or a Porsche 911. They stand for a clear attitude.”

Given that all of the brands are under the Volkswagen Group umbrella, Lichte is undoubtedly well aware of the vehicles like the Beetle and the 911, which are certainly good bars to work to equal or exceed.–gsv