GOLDING’S TAKE: Schwarzenbauer on Audi's sales bonanza
Audi is extremely pleased with itself and we should probably change the way we say things: the premium car sector has long been a collective term for Mercedes, BMW and Audi… and usually in that order. Having gone past a million sales and both of its rivals in volume, and having a compelling alphabetic advantage, should it not become Audi, BMW and Mercedes?
It seemed an important proposition to discuss with the Audi sales and marketing director, so I took a flight to Munich and talked to Peter Schwarzenbauer after he had finished with Audi’s annual Press conference on last year’s financial results.
Schwarzenbauer was only too pleased with the chance to have a pop at BMW because he knew off the top of his head that he had beaten them on volume in the UK for the month of February. Mercedes was a distant third.
“It goes back to last year,” he said. “We were surprised by the way that the worldwide recovery was performing. Usually, recovery goes from region to region at a different pace but it took off much faster than all the experts expected. All of a sudden we had to ramp up production.
“The world market is now much more integrated with the exception of China which had its own microclimate. Its substantial domestic demand arose because it reacted quickly and encouraged demand.
“We are now having to quote three to four months delivery and quite a bit longer than that on specific engines. The ideal situation would be two to three months of lead time.”
In the US, purchasing of Audi cars is becoming more like Russia and China where people go into an Audi store and buy a car that is there. Fourteen per cent of sales in the US are now off the floor. “That has never happened before.
“In Europe we now see a strong trend towards the individualised car and we expect this to grow dramatically.”
To deal with the changing requirements Audi has created the Quattro subsidiary which manages the RS models and makes a virtue of individual specification of the car. In Russia, for example, there will be a limited edition of 555 Q7s tailored to the preferences of the market and available off the floor. When they are gone, they’re gone.
The UK is also becoming geared to limited editions. Schwarzenbauer is also thinking about regionalisation of special editions.
“Would people prefer to have a car from a limited edition of 100 in the UK, or one from 3,000 worldwide? We don’t know but we will find out.”
The UK is important to Schwarzenbauer. “It is now our benchmark market. The UK started groundwork very early and it now sells all cars through sites that are exclusively Audi-branded. That is not the same in the rest of the world which is only 84% solus.
“Exclusivity allows you to deliver a much better brand message and when we look at our UK key performance indicators (KPIs) they are far better than the two other premium brands. We intend to get the UK to tell the rest of the world how it was done and we will standardise on some of the UK advertising.”
We like the idea that the UK is fundamental to Audi’s global success and are prepared to consider the premium market as Audi, BMW and Mercedes. But only when Audi manages a full year of superior volume. Its new forecast is for 1.2m car sales this year.