E-tron leads way as Audi heads into a ‘pre­mium mo­bil­ity’ fu­ture

IN­TER­VIEW

Business Day - Motor News - - MOTOR NEWS - Mark Smyth

Plan­ning five years ahead in the auto in­dus­try at the moment is no easy task, es­pe­cially if you are the head of strat­egy technical de­vel­op­ment at Audi, but that is ex­actly what Thomas Kamla has to do.

He does so at a time when Audi has been through mul­ti­ple di­rec­tors of technical de­vel­op­ment in six years and as I ar­rived in San Fran­cisco re­cently for the re­veal of the new Audi E-tron, I was in­formed that its then technical direc­tor, Peter Mertens, was un­well and would not be avail­able for in­ter­views.

A few days later he was out, re­placed by the sixth technical de­vel­op­ment direc­tor in as many years. Tough gig, al­though per­haps lan­guish­ing in prison with­out charge over Diesel­gate is a lit­tle tougher for for­mer CEO Ru­pert Stadler.

Kamla says his role is to find a “sus­tain­able strat­egy for the next five years”, some­thing that will en­tail mov­ing Audi from be­ing a pre­mium car maker to be­ing a “pre­mium mo­bil­ity” com­pany. Kamla takes it an­other step fur­ther though to say that Audi will be­come a “pro­ducer of pre­mium eco sys­tems”.

This re­flects an in­dus­try in a state of change. No longer can car mak­ers just pro­duce cars and en­tice buy­ers with fancy mar­ket­ing. Kayla says that in the past the com­pany de­vel­oped plat­forms and tech­nol­ogy based on the car it­self, but now he and his teams are de­vel­op­ing to the new needs of the cus­tomer.

He says ev­ery­thing is mov­ing to be­come “cus­tomer cen­tric” but when we asked him if cus­tomers know what they want, he replied: “No, not re­ally.”

That could well be true be­cause cus­tomers say they want au­ton­o­mous cars but yet they have no real ex­pe­ri­ence of them. They do want more fea­tures though, es­pe­cially con­ve­nience fea­tures, in­fo­tain­ment and con­nec­tiv­ity.

What Kamla also wants to build into the Audis of the fu­ture is time. “For me the most pre­mium thing is time. To have pri­vacy, a busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment.” But he adds that “pure fun is also a value we have to fo­cus on — we have to keep the feel­ing of pure fun”, cit­ing the PB18 con­cept re­vealed at Pebble Beach in Septem­ber as an ex­am­ple.

There is more to come though, with the com­pany hav­ing show­cased the PB18 and its Aikon con­cept as its fu­ture plans, but Kamla says there will be two sig­nif­i­cant new con­cepts at the Frank­furt mo­tor show in late 2019. Be­yond that, he says 2021 will be a ma­jor an­niver­sary event for the com­pany and we should “ex­pect big things”.

For now he says “we are liv­ing a lit­tle bit in the fu­ture”, adding that “I hope the com­pany is ready”. It is partly his job to make sure it is, of course, but there are ar­eas that are very much out of the brand’s usual re­mit. One ex­am­ple is Audi’s col­lab­o­ra­tion with Air­bus and Italde­sign on the Pop Up fly­ing car project. Kamla is in­volved in it and says that it will hap­pen, with tri­als set to be­ing in Audi’s home town of In­gol­stadt. He says we can ex­pect the Pop Up on, and in­deed above, our roads in five to seven years.

Back to to­day and Kamla is bal­anc­ing the needs of the cus­tomer to­day with their wants for to­mor­row. Audi has lots of new prod­ucts com­ing over the next 12 months in­clud­ing the new A3, Q3, up­dated A4 and oth­ers, but a great deal of the fo­cus will on its first elec­tric ve­hi­cle, the E-tron.

“We wanted a car that can be com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful,” says Kamla. To achieve that he says it needed to “look like an Audi and look like an SUV. It needed to be an ev­ery­day car.”

Whether it will be an ev­ery­day car ev­ery­where re­mains to be seen, es­pe­cially in a coun­try like SA, but by the time it ar­rives here, the en­vi­ron­ment could be dif­fer­ent and the cus­tomer could well have a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of what elec­tric ve­hi­cles are about and what it is they want them to do.

2021 will be a ma­jor an­niver­sary event for the com­pany and we should ’ex­pect big things’, ac­cord­ing to Audi’s Thomas Kamla

The PB18 con­cept shows the com­pany plans to re­tain the fun side of mo­tor­ing.

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