Wolfgang Durheimer, member of the board of management for technical development, Audi AG

Wolfgang Durheimer, member of the board of management for technical development, Audi AG

Less than 100 days into his new job, Wolfgang Durheimer strides purposefully into the meeting room, carrying a bulging briefcase, his face wreathed in a smile, greeting each of us with a firm handshake and friendly “hello”.

The former Bentley CEO has taken the unusual step of deciding to give the first briefing of his new job, not to the domestic German media, but a select half-dozen journalists from the UK.

Immediately he explains that the target is to make Audi the “number one premium brand in the world by 2018-2020,” adding that “we are about level with Mercedes-Benz and our next target is BMW.”

The cornerstone to achieving this will be a blitz of new models that will take Audi into ever more niches in the coming decade. Although he wouldn’t be pinned down to any launch dates he was remarkably frank about what we can expect to see coming from Ingolstadt in the future.

Headlining that strategy are two cars that couldn’t be more worlds apart, yet in their own way each will be a pinnacle of efficiency and innovative engineering: “For Audi, one of the innovative and futuristic ideas we have is to bring a 1-litre/100kms (283 mpg) car to the market, that delivers everything an Audi should in terms of seats, space, comfort and connectivity.” In other words this will be no hair-shirt, pared down to the minimum eco-warrior, but a distinct four-seater within the Audi family. Based on the A1 platform it will utilise advanced mixed material structures to minimise its weight. He wouldn’t be drawn on what the powertrain might be beyond saying that a two-cylinder hybrid diesel, as used in the VW XL1, is “not our way.”

At the opposite end of the performance scale, Audi will develop a supercar using a hybrid diesel powertrain based on the Le Mans winning R18 e-tron technology. This 200mph beast will be the acme of Audi technology, embracing everything from advanced carbon fibre structures through to a powertrain capable of pummelling a sub-three second zero to 60mph time. Expect at least 700Bhp and 750lbs ft torque from its combination of turbocharged V6 diesel and electric motors as well as a price tag to match its rivals from Ferrari, McLaren, Porsche and Jaguar.

But will a diesel powered supercar be sexy enough to sell? Durheimer believes so. “If you look at fuel consumption a diesel hybrid is where you can save the most…There’s an argument that people might not want a £300,000 diesel, but what always sells is performance; if it’s quick and low in consumption and looks cool it could be quite an offer.” He then quickly adds, “acceptance of diesels in the USA is growing and a super sports car could help promote that further.” So, Durheimer’s message is clear: this mid-decade car will spearhead Audi’s diesel drive in the 'States.

Durheimer also has one eye on China which he expects to account for 25% of Audi’s business in the future. Next year sees the 25th anniversary of Audi’s presences there and by 2016 two additional plants producing 700,000 units a year will be up and running. The ground was recently broken for the first – a new A3 factory – with production starting in 2014.

But he also sees more scope for large models like the A8: “In China we will use more chrome and show off more than we do in Europe because that’s what the Chinese customer wants, they want to see the value of the car, and in future the of use golden and titanium surfaces is entirely possible, although they wouldn’t sell in the UK or Germany.

“We need to redefine exclusivity on a world-wide approach and not just as we see it through western eyes and values.”

And with urban driving in China’s mega-cities reduced to a crawl, Durheimer is even considering a two-litre A8 with hybrid technology [BMW will shortly be making a plug-in hybrid 5 Series in China - ed], “ It will still have all the connectivity, luxury and quality of an A8 including night-vision to help reduce accidents in the dark when pedestrians and animals roam unlit roads.”

Spurred on, no doubt, by the success of the Range Rover Evoque, Durheimer is planning to expand the Q range with the possibility of a sub Q3 model as well as derivatives unofficially referred to as Q4, Q6 and Q8, the latter being Audi’s answer to the Range Rover Sport.

Audi’s lightweight strategy takes a significant step forward with the next Q7 due in 2014 that will be 350kgs lighter than the current model, thanks to extensive use of aluminium and other lightweight materials.

Lightweight materials, that will also include carbon fibre and magnesium further down the line, are, says Durheimer one of the three main technologies that Audi will be concentrating on in the future, the other two being: Audi connect and multimedia with increased IT content in the car and, thirdly, e-tron with hybrid and electric technology, “Our aim is to reduce to the minimum all components to reach CO2 targets and still deliver driving pleasure and emotion whilst driving our cars.”

Durheimer is a busy man; in addition to his role at Audi he is responsible for co-ordinating the motorsports activities of all the car brands plus MAN trucks and Ducati motorcycles, as well as sitting on the Italian superbike maker’s supervisory board.

Heading into the future there’s going to be plenty of interbrand rivalry, especially on the race track where there’s the potential of Audi, Bentley, Lamborghini and Porsche going head to head in GT3 racing and at Le Mans with both Porsche and Audi gunning for outright victory in 2014. 

That rivalry will be avoided in rallying where VW will contend the WRC and Skoda the IRC, whilst the biker in Durheimer – he started his career in BMW’s motorcycle division – wants to see Ducati winning in Moto GP and, perhaps, competing in Paris-Dakar.

Asked which of this raft of new product will get signed off first, Durheimer is quick to reply: “If it was up to me I would do the super sports car first,” but it isn’t just his decision. Durheimer and his board colleagues have recently finished a two-day product review that will determine Audi’s way forward through to the end of the decade. And we'll bet there are still some surprises in store for us…