Audi’s happy marriage between Italian passion and German dependability
Audi has steered its own course against the trend for falling sales
Audi has bucked the global and European sales trends, posting record sales year-on-year for the past 16 years, if you ignore the aberration that was the global dip of 2009. The VW -Group owned brand delivered 1.4-million cars to eager customers, worldwide, last year, itself a record for the company and brought home a significant €6-billion in overall profits.
That's a remarkable number, representing 40 per cent of the vast VW Group's profit for 2012 delivered to the bank's door by a premium badge operation that represents just 12 per cent of the total group sales. Remarkable barely begins to describe it, especially against a backdrop of continuing uncertainty in the world's car markets, and downright gloom in Audi's traditional European home markets.
Last week, in front of the world's assembled media, Audi's chairman of the board, Rupert Stadler, made a strong overtone that the firm wants to shift the centre of its gravity away, even if only slightly, from its traditional, rational, Bauhaus appeal and seek instead something of the Latin passion that fuels such enthusiasm amongst the world's car nuts.
Part of that shift is clear from Audi's own group-within-a-group inside the VW structure. Audi is responsible for the running of Lamborghini (as it has been since 1998) and now also has high-performance motorbike maker Ducati and Italdesign, the design studio established and owned by the legendary Giorgetto Giugiaro, under the control of the Audi Group. Indeed, the gala event that preceded the delivering of Audi's annual report, Giugiaro himself appeared on stage with a 40-year-old concept that the designed for Audi - the Ace Of Spades; a sharp-edged, 1970s looking car that clearly gave inspiration to the likes of the early models of Audi 80 and the original Volkswagen Scirocco.
It's to Giugiaro and Italdesign that Audi seems to be turning for its future styling with Audi design boss Wolfgang Egger saying that "there is a lot of interchange between us and Italdesign now. The design must be in line with the genes though. You are designing for the four rings, not for yourself." Clearly then, Audi is not going to tear up the rule book of subtle styling that has won it so many fans and sales, but it seems as if a little more latin passion and a few more curves are on the way. Giugiaro himself said that "The definition of a successful vehicle design? Simple; a beautiful car! It's the things you perceive, possibly sub-consciously, but it is something that we do with a lot of enthusiasm; the drawing, the shaping. It's what should excite people, no? Working together with Audi is about finding the person with the biggest message to say."
Audi is not just looking to Italy for styling inspiration though. It's also turning to its Latin acquisitions for technical know-how in the design of lightweight cars. "Lightweight is crucial for vehicle performance and Ducati is a pioneer in lightweight motorcycle construction" said Audi technology guru Wolfgang Durheimer when asked what the Audi-Ducati linkup was all about, and doubtless it is true, although Rupert Stadler later alluded to the fact that Audi's dormant sub brands of DKW and NSU once made it the largest maker of motorcycles in the world, so there's little doubt that the purchase of Ducati was partially to allow Audi to fight fellow Bavarian rival BMW on its two-wheeled turf.