Sunday Times


Audi read­ies to spar in the elec­tric mo­bil­ity arena with a dozen new models by 2025. We headed to San Fran­cisco to see their first con­tender. By

- Bruce Fraser

Push­ing off from Pier 3 into the beau­ti­ful San Fran­cisco har­bour last Mon­day evening, I couldn’t get the 60s clas­sic by soul singer Otis Red­ding, Sit­tin’ On the Dock of the Bay, out of my head. We glide past the no­to­ri­ous Al­ca­traz prison while in the dis­tance the iconic Golden Gate Bridge stands tall — as it has done for eight decades. Writ­ten shortly be­fore his tragic death in a plane crash at just 26 years of age, Red­ding sings with a deep pas­sion about the pres­sures of change. In a way, his lyrics were ap­pro­pri­ate, con­sid­er­ing 1,600 guests were aboard the ma­jes­tic pad­dle­boat, the San Fran­cisco Belle as we headed to the site of an old Ford plant in Rich­mond, Cal­i­for­nia, for the un­veil­ing of Audi’s first fully elec­tric ve­hi­cle — the e-tron.

In a wel­com­ing speech Bram Schot, act­ing pres­i­dent for Audi, touched on re­cent events that have rocked the Volk­swa­gen group. “While we must not for­get what has hap­pened in the past, the need for change is now.”

He was of course re­fer­ring to the emis­sions scan­dal known as Diesel­gate. The build-up to this week’s event had all the in­gre­di­ents of a Hol­ly­wood movie. Two months out from the planned Au­gust un­veil­ing of the e-tron in Brus­sels, it was an­nounced the event was post­poned due to “or­gan­i­sa­tional is­sues”.

It is no se­cret that the com­pany’s CEO, Ru­pert Stadler, had been ar­rested days be­fore at his In­gol­stadt home for his in­volve­ment in the scan­dal. To date the group has been fined in ex­cess of $26bn — and other law­suits are pend­ing. And as in­ves­ti­ga­tors dig deeper into the scan­dal, the murkier things be­come — fraud, phone-tap­ping, high-pro­file res­ig­na­tions. It’s straight from Tin­sel­town.

Hil­trud Werner, the sole woman on Volk­swa­gen’s man­age­ment board, was forth­right in a re­cent in­ter­view when she de­scribed the sit­u­a­tion as “the worst in­dus­trial scan­dal in Ger­many since World War 2. It has a mag­ni­tude that we have not seen be­fore.”

It might be pre-emp­tive to say Mon­day was the start of “new be­gin­nings” for the group, but it is def­i­nitely a new tech­no­log­i­cal chap­ter for Audi as they head into a fu­ture in

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