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Audi previews future product plans

Tue, 20 Apr 2010

Audi's U.S. boss stopped by One AutoWeek Tower on Tuesday afternoon and offered us an update on the brand's future products. Here's what's happening in the next few years, straight from Audi of America president Johan de Nysschen.

What is coming here

A version of the E-tron concept, likely something close to the original R8-styled car seen at the Frankfurt motor show, is on tap for 2012.

“Absolutely,” de Nysschen said when asked about Audi's electric-car future. “The E-tron, in a very emotional, stirring package, represents the way that we will approach it.”

Look for the E-tron range to continue to grow after that, though plans for the smaller concept shown at the Detroit auto show have not been spelled out.

In that vein, hybrids and diesels are also on deck for Audi as it races to comply with stricter fuel-economy standards set to take effect for 2016. De Nysschen said hybrid versions of the Q5, the A6 and the A8 are all likely--and they are needed to build fuel-economy credentials with mainstream America. The Q5 will be the first hybrid for the U.S. market, he said.

A version of Audi's E-tron concept is due as part of the company's electric-car plans in 2012.

Diesels, which have long been one of Audi's signature technologies for efficiency and performance, will also grow across the product range. Look for diesel variants of the A6 and A8 soon, de Nysschen said. Diesels also have served as a halo for the brand, as Audi racers have scored publicity-generating victories in the American Le Mans Series in the United States and the Le Mans Series in Europe powered by potent diesel engines.

“For us, clean diesel is an important avenue for attaining those [federal fuel economy] targets,” he said.

Look for the upcoming A7 to complete Audi's lineup in its current form, de Nysschen said. The redone A8 is due this fall. For pure fun, the R8 Spyder also joins the stable late this year.

“We really have added a lot of firepower [at the top of the lineup],” he said.

Afterward, the brand is looking to burnish its image in the eyes of consumers, as it admittedly lags its storied German competitors Mercedes-Benz and BMW.

Audi is taking steps to change that, and it's been aggressive with advertising during the Super Bowl and the Olympics, as well as at New York's Yankee Stadium.

“There is still a gap in public perception,” de Nysschen said. “People in America need to recognize us for who we are.”

The Audi A1 is not coming to the United States in its first generation. It's shown here in S Line trim.

What is not coming here

Speculating about what European models or variants from Audi's broad product lineup might come to the U.S. market is a favorite sport of enthusiasts. De Nysschen also spelled out for us what is not coming to the States at the moment.

The A1? No. It's probably too small for U.S. consumers. Maybe six or seven years down the road, but not in its first generation.

The Q3 is also nixed for America, as is the S4 wagon.

“For the U.S., I like our current lineup,” de Nysschen said.

The Audi TT roadster has recorded sluggish sales in the last year.

Other topics

The Audi honcho addressed various other topics in his wide-ranging chat with AW:

-- The Audi TT roadster isn't selling so well, as it's competing in a market segment that's dropped considerably in the last year, including 27 percent so far this year, de Nysschen said.

“We are short on everything with the exception of the TT roadster,” he said.

-- An assembly plant appears unlikely for Audi in the United States anytime soon, even at the Volkswagen Group facility in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The reasons: The model would need to be all-new and generate volume. Additionally, exporting a car built here to Europe would cut into profits because of taxes. And on top of all of this, Volkswagen needs the space in Chattanooga to accommodate its own ambitious growth plans.

A more likely scenario involves building a facility to make engines and transmissions in the United States, which could then be exported to other markets as well.

-- On Toyota: “They must be wondering how it all happened,” de Nysschen said. “They were going so well. It must be like a nightmare.”

By Greg Migliore