Ingrams with an 80GT from Audi UKs heritage collection

Ingrams with an 80GT from Audi UK's heritage collection

David Ingrams, who retired from Audi UK's press office today (31 July) played a key role in helping the German automaker's engineers achieve "uncompromised" right hand drive configurations and also oversaw a collection of about 50 classic cars, many of which he helped to launch when new. The man who praised Audi for taking the long-term view has himself served 36 years with the automaker and the connection may not yet be completely severed.

The chat was one of those chances that just pop up occasionally when covering the fascinating automaking biz - Audi was holding its annual range review at a posh former stately pile conveniently near my home base. But the welcome speech from PR chief Jon Zammett unusually included the news of Ingrams' imminent departure, with more praise, anecdotes - and a slight waver in the voice - than I've heard in many a year. Few media chiefs acknowledge a departing colleague quite so warmly and I've never before heard one referred to as "my wingman".

Ingrams acknowledged it may not now be possible to get a start in the auto industry in quite the manner as he managed it back in April 1978. He had wanted to be a pilot but eyesight was an issue. Mad on cars and motorsport and "good at maths", he initially pursued an accounting qualification, "got bored with that" and then entered the civil service, "also getting bored with that".

"At the time, I had no idea that, in the motor industry, there were jobs such as PR and marketing, essential office jobs," he said. "I wrote to four car companies - Volkswagen GB, Mercedes, Porsche and BMW - all German, said I loved cars had no qualifications, was keen to learn and asked if they could contact me when they had anything that might suit my background." He had replies back - this is rare today - saying he'd be kept in mind.

Ingrams had grown up in Ramsgate, Kent, and the German car interest came from seeing VWs and Audis arrive at the port where the automaker at the time had a large import centre. One day, the phone rang at his dad's newsagent shop - a VW manager had remembered the letter, lost it so simply asked a secretary to ring every Ingrams in the phone book. Would that happen today?

That led to a first job at Ramsgate as a factory order clerk, collating dealer orders and placing weekly orders with the German assembly plants. Ingrams' natural enthusiasm for cars had been noticed, however, and opportunity soon knocked as VW, which also ran Audi at the time, was planning the move from Purley, south of London, to Milton Keynes and, as always happens, not all staff were willing to relocate. For a young man on the up, it was "terribly exciting", said Ingrams, recalling he did move and was soon taken under the wing of then Audi marketing boss John Meszaros, a Hungarian who'd fled the 1956 uprising for the UK and started at VW as a car cleaner.

"He was one of life's geniuses and very good with people," recalled Ingrams. Meszaros placed him initially in the [personal] export centre in Baker Street, London, and, after six months there in 1980, offered a junior product manager role. In 1978, the Audi range, usually sold in a corner of a VW dealership, consisted of the 80 and 100 sedans and the 100 Avant fastback estate car. By 1980, Ingrams was in on the launch of the first quattro. "What a first project, a roller coaster of excitement," he said, letting slip that not everyone in the company - or critics outside - thought the four wheel drive sports coupe would be a success. Ingrams, also a keen motorsport fan, was even more in his element from the early 1980s when Audi began its rally programme. Names such as the famed Michele Mouton who took four victories and finished runner-up in the drivers' world championship in 1982 while competing in the World Rally Championship for the Audi factory team, trip lightly off his tongue.

Ingrams stayed in marketing until 1991, working his way up to senior product manager. Around that time, the legendary Ferdinand Piech, who headed Audi R&D before becoming chairman and CEO of Volkswagen AG, resolved to end what Ingrams called "right hand drive discrimination". By then, VW had come under fire from critics for launching the mid-80s Golf Mark II and a Passat line with a LHD wiper pattern in the 36 RHD markets of the time (Nissan actually changed this to the 'correct' pattern for the cars it built under licence in Japan and that involved a new bonnet pressing). Ingrams said it also extended to such things as the bonnet release and other items such as switchgear and he was asked to attend prototype testing and worked with the engineers on "input to what was thought important for RHD". Discussions would also cover cars generally and he would often be shown "still secret" items - such as satellite navigation - several years ahead of launch in the cars.

"Not everything needed would get through but I had the ability to discuss things and agree compromises." Not being an engineer, Ingrams often just relied on "gut feel" but the engineers must have liked and respected him as he carried on to do about six test sessions a year between 1988 and 2013. And, if your Audi wipers clear all the glass in front of you, and the bonnet release is easily to hand in England, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, India et al, you know who to thank.

Inevitably, Ingrams "built up a lot of relationships in Germany" which led to a posting there (indefinite at the time though today a fixed three-year stint is common) which he thoroughly enjoyed but the separation of Audi and VW in 1993 saw him lured back to the UK by then marketing chief Kevin Rose (now sales and marketing head of VW group company Bentley) to run a product marketing team.

This was a great opportunity to build an organisation from scratch and Ingrams remembers going in with Rose on a Saturday morning and "going through the company directory" to "build a brand with people we liked". That eventually led to the decision "we needed a director" and Len Hunt, who Ingrams described as "inspired" and "a people specialist", was hired. Next decision was to establish a separate Audi dealer network which whittled 380 shared VW-Audi outlets down to 125 dedicated shops; the same number the brand has on the day of Ingrams' retirement. Then came a dealer council and "we built up relationships and sold ourselves to the network", as Ingrams put it.

He acknowledged that VW's UK unit gave Audi the tools it needed and the factory sent more and more new models - 80 became A4, 100, the A6, then there were coupes, cabriolets plus the TT. And more and more, leading to the stunningly diverse range today. Hence Zammett's sustainable claim this week Audi is doing "spectacularly well this year" with 87,000 half year sales, "10,500 ahead of BMW" and "twice that ahead of Mercedes"; the brand "in the right place" is on course for about 160,000, insiders said, versus 142,000 last year.

Ingrams moved into PR in 2000 when Zammett moved over from SEAT. Ingrams reckoned he "brought enthusiasm into the press department and often attended launches in the role of 'the car bloke'". His boss acknowledged finding the right title was a problem for years and 'The David Ingrams' has been seen on name badges at events; Ingrams retired officially as 'PR Manager, Product & Technology'.

Ingrams insisted jobs such as his are "not difficult to do; all you need is the right application" and added that talking to customers and dealers at every opportunity is just as important, if not more so, as getting the message out via the press.

In a statement, Zammett said Ingram was the group’s "inventor of 'influencer relationships'", having worked in support of VIPs since the late 1980s. He still retains possibly the most high profile contact book in the industry, led mainly by major influencers and respected car enthusiasts who have always appreciated his genuine love of cars."

Talking to just-auto, Ingrams praised Audi for its "long termism", noting that some engineers on the first product test he did are still with the automaker. "Piech thinks 10-15 years out," he added.

So, retirement, well earned after 36 years' toil. New  leisure time will be spent travelling, cycling and tending a cherished classic car collection of his own. But there are already hints some sort of 'emeritus' role may be in the offing, probably related to the now 50-strong Audi car collection built up with a lot of Ingrams involvement, with some cars taking up to five years of persuasion to acquire.

We'll see him again, I'm sure.

Show the press release

DAVID INGRAM RETIRES AFTER MORE THAN THREE DECADES WITH AUDI UK

Last member of the original Audi UK ‘brand launch’ team departs this month

David Ingram retires today (Thursday July 31) after 36 years in the Volkswagen Group, 34 years of which have been spent with Audi, where he was one of the original team at Milton Keynes which launched the brand in the separation of 1993.

A key product expert who has seen sales rise from under 20,000 cars in 1993 to exceed 142,000 in 2014, David was at Audi when the first quattro models were launched, when the first rallies were won and when the very first chapters in the remarkable Audi Le Mans sports car racing success story were written. 

During his time with the brand, David has earned widespread respect for his detailed product technical knowledge and his genuine enthusiasm for cars and engineering. These assets saw him build key relationships throughout his career with Volkswagen Group and Audi engineers, Board members, the brands’ various racing teams, drivers and members of the press worldwide.

Uniquely David served for many years as the UK Right Hand Drive representative for the Group’s international secret prototype testing. In this low profile, but key role, which he first took up in 1988, he has tested and approved almost all Right Hand Drive, pre-production cars in the Group.  His work will leave a lasting legacy - ever wondered why Audi windscreen wipers are all configured for Right Hand Drive?

His final role for Audi has been in the Press and PR department, where he has been one of the industry’s most informed technical experts facing the media for 15 years. His understanding and insight have been considerable advantages in dealing with the motor press for Audi.

But there is one more skill which can be added to all of these - David was the Group’s inventor of ‘influencer relationships’, having worked in support of VIPs since the late 1980s. He still retains possibly the most high profile contact book in the industry, led mainly by major influencers and respected car enthusiasts who have always appreciated his genuine love of cars.

The first Audi launch team

As one of the original staff team which helped to orchestrate the rebirth of Audi in the UK in 1993, David has acquired a deep knowledge of the history and heritage of the brand. He has been the UK ‘Audi Tradition’ car collection curator and the font of all knowledge when it comes to historic facts and technical milestones.

Two more things you might not have known about the modest Mr Ingram: he was a fueller in the Le Mans pit crew in 1983 for the Jonathan Palmer, Richard Lloyd , Jan Lammers Porsche 956, and also  helped to broker the relationship between Goodwood and Hannu Mikkola that created the design of the rally stage we all know today.

David is set to retire from the corporate world to tend to his classic cars, but he is certain to be seen at future Le Mans races which he wouldn’t miss for the world. This is all a far cry from factory ordering Volkswagens and Audis in the Ramsgate sales office, where his Group career began in 1978.

Original source: Audi UK

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