INTERVIEW: Audi UK boss Martin Sander talks market leadership
Martin Sander has been with Audi for 18 years, mostly in Sales & Marketing. Prior to his time in the UK, he was president of Audi Canada
On 30 September, Martin Sander ended his tenure as head of Audi's UK operations. He spoke to Glenn Brooks about his time in Britain, and his promotion to senior director of sales for the Americas.
GB: How long have you been head of Audi’s UK operations?
MS: Twenty one months, to be precise.
GB: And in that time, we’ve had 18 consecutive months of the local market expanding, and Audi sales hitting record levels. You’re obviously leaving the business in good shape for your successor.
MS: Yes, it has been a very, very successful time for Audi in the UK. We sold almost 90,000 cars for the year to the end of August [and the 100,000 threshold was crossed in September] and we are expecting more than 140,000 this year. So there has been a drastic increase in volume but more importantly, profit is very stable.
GB: Why are Audi sales so far ahead of the other two German premium brands in the UK?
MS: I think the key to Audi’s success in the UK is similar to Audi’s success in general. Outstanding product, exciting technology and a very, very clear strategy throughout our whole organisation - delivering the best for our customers.
GB: The range keeps on expanding but still there are some missing numbers in the Q series: Q2, Q4, Q6, Q8. When will we see some of those vehicles?
MS: The expansion of the range has continued over the last couple of years, as you mentioned and yes, there are still gaps. I think it’s necessary to look at these opportunities as customer tastes and preferences are changing, so if we stick to just the product portfolio that we have today, then we will create a problem for the future. And as a progressive premium brand, it is our responsibility to explore new ideas and new niches. But I cannot say when we might launch any additional products.
GB: You speak of niches: the UK should be one of the lead global markets for PHEV Audis, thanks to the government subsidy programme for cars with cords. What sales expectations do you have for the A3 e-tron?
MS: Really high expectations. I don’t see this as a niche, though. This is a new drivetrain philosophy which over time will spread across our range. There are customers for whom gasoline engines will be the perfect choice for many years down the road. But more and more, hybrid and electric drivetrains will be very effective alternatives. So we will launch with our plug-in hybrid A3 e-tron but then more models will come.
We want to launch a concept which is attractive in terms of its overall cost of operation. Take fuel economy. For the fleet market, I think e-tron can be a very interesting proposition.
GB: You’re about to become the head of Sales for Audi’s Americas operations. Why is the position based in Germany?
MS: We have sales organisations in all major markets, so for example, Audi Brazil, Audi Canada, Audi USA, and all are headed by brand directors running the operational business in the market. But for all markets in the world, we have a sales organisation at our headquarters as well, to make sure that everything we do, all our actions are consistent across the globe. And we must also make sure that communication between the markets and headquarters is strong.
The market in the US in terms of customer expectations is very different from other big markets - from China, from Germany, from the United Kingdom. We also have to make sure that we have the right product in each market. We must precisely understand the specific requirements of all markets. This is why it is so important that the Sales organisations at our headquarters co-ordinate the activities of the markets and also be those markets’ voices.
GB: Where in the Americas do you believe Audi has the best opportunity for growth?
MS: Without talking too much about what is a new position for me, there is potential everywhere - North America and South America.
GB: The factory coming on stream at San José Chiapa next year will present a particular sales boost opportunity for the US, wouldn’t you say?
MS: Yes, we will be building the Q5 in our new plant in Mexico and we expect it to be very successful.
San José Chiapa will have capacity of 150,000 units per annum. It will reportedly be the world's only manufacturing base for the second generation Q5, replacing Ingolstadt, the main plant for build of the current Q5. Kits will be sent from Mexico to existing Volkswagen Group plants in China, India and Russia for vehicle assembly in those countries.