Audi: what’s gone wrong, and what’s next

Un­der-in­vest­ment, in­de­ci­sion, Diesel­gate jail time – chal­leng­ing times for Audi, as Ge­org Kacher ex­plains

CAR (UK) - - Contents -

AT THE TIME of writ­ing, Audi chair­man Ru­pert Stadler is in Augs­burg prison, Bavaria. He hasn’t been tried or charged with any­thing; he’s be­ing in­ves­ti­gated over al­le­ga­tions that he didn’t in­ter­vene when he heard about the use of de­feat de­vices in 2015. The Ger­man au­thor­i­ties thought jus­tice would be best served by hav­ing him out of the loop and un­able to in­ter­vene in their on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions. Around 20 other ex­ec­u­tives are un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Ger­man pub­lic pros­e­cu­tor. In the US, for­mer VW Group CEO Martin Win­terkorn has been in­dicted with fraud and con­spir­acy.

As far as the VW Group is con­cerned, Stadler is ‘in­ac­tive’ but pre­sumed in­no­cent. For now, Abra­ham Schot’s in charge.

Stadler led Audi in its hugely prof­itable decade up to 2015, and helped it con­sol­i­date its po­si­tion as a pre­mium brand on a par with BMW and Mercedes. He is ex­tremely well-con­nected within the com­pany: he was chief of staff to Fer­di­nand Piëch when he was VW chair­man and CEO. The group is owned by the Porsche and Piëch fam­i­lies and the state of Lower Sax­ony, rep­re­sented re­spec­tively by Wolf­gang Porsche, Michel Piëch and Stephan Weil. Union leader Bernd Oster­loh is also in­flu­en­tial.

How does Audi it into the Diesel­gate scan­dal?

Diesel­gate re­lates to the dis­cov­ery in 2015 by US in­ves­ti­ga­tors of soft­ware de­signed to fool diesel emis­sions tests, which in­ves­ti­ga­tors said had been go­ing on since 2007, and in­volved some 11 mil­lion ve­hi­cles. Al­though the diesel en­gines in ques­tion were used by var­i­ous VW Group brands, it’s be­lieved the cheat soft­ware orig­i­nated within Audi. The brand is un­der par­tic­u­larly keen scru­tiny with the new WLTP emis­sions tests, re­sult­ing in some en­gines be­ing un­avail­able to or­der.

And yet Audi’s hugely suc­cess­ful, isn’t it?

Yes – Audi’s the most prof­itable part of the VW Group, with sales at twice the vol­ume they were in 2006. But the worry is that in to­day’s fast-mov­ing mar­ket, you need to be run­ning just to stand still. And Audi’s not run­ning, so it’s stor­ing up prob­lems.

Crit­ics ar­gue that Stadler and his team have been too slow and too con­ser­va­tive for too long. The Q1 baby SUV, for in­stance, is still a cou­ple of years away. There’s un­cer­tainty about the fu­ture of the open-top line-up (A3, A5, TT, R8), and there was too much dither­ing about the en­gi­neer­ing to re­place the cur­rent A4.

The other big prob­lem, at least ac­cord­ing to the more pes­simistic ob­servers, is that Audi’s fu­ture de­vel­op­ment is in­creas­ingly de­pen­dent on other parts of the VW Group – Audi has lost con­trol of its en­gi­neer­ing in ex­change for ef­fi­ciency-boost­ing syn­er­gies. That may make fi­nan­cial sense but it’s po­ten­tially detri­men­tal to a brand with the tagline Vor­sprung durch Tech­nik .

Audi’s tread­ing wa­ter while Group ri­vals VW and Porsche ex­plore new ter­ri­to­ries. In ad­di­tion to no fewer than 10 VWbadged EVs on the shared MEB plat­form due by 2025, Wolfs­burg will also fur­nish Audi, Skoda and Seat with zero-emis­sion know-how and hard­ware. By out­sourc­ing en­gi­neer­ing and assem­bly, all that’s left for Audi to do is de­sign the bod­ies.

Audi has tra­di­tion­ally been free to go its own way with its big­gest, most ex­pen­sive cars. But within the group it’s now Porsche tak­ing the lead; thus Audi will have to use Porsche ar­chi­tec­tures.

There’s al­ways mo­tor­sport…

Well, there was. Audi had a bril­liant run in en­durance rac­ing, dom­i­nat­ing Le Mans with 13 wins over 17 years from 1999. But it’s no longer in the World En­durance Cham­pi­onship, hav­ing switched to For­mula E as a sym­bolic and prac­ti­cal shift of pri­or­i­ties: it’s a less ex­pen­sive, more di­rectly rel­e­vant se­ries.

While it’s in­volved in DTM, World Ral­ly­cross and World Tour­ing Cars, with mixed re­sults, Audi Sport looks in­creas­ingly ir­rel­e­vant as a sub-brand, lack­ing the in­no­va­tion and ex­cite­ment of BMW’s M divi­sion or AMG.

Will Audi’s elec­tric cars ix all this?

Maybe, but loyal cus­tomers are hav­ing to wait for their elec­tric Audi: in­no­va­tive pos­si­bil­i­ties have been around within its R&D cen­tres for years but pro­duc­tion was re­peat­edly re­jected, and the ar­rival of the Jaguar i-Pace has left Audi look­ing tardy.

This lack of fresh think­ing is a shame be­cause the guys from In­gol­stadt used to lead the tech pack with their nat­u­ral gas en­gines, C02-neu­tral hy­dro­gen and syn­thetic fu­els. Audi ran fuel cell pro­to­types around the same time as BMW and Merc, the A1 e-tron con­cept with Wankel range ex­ten­der pre­ceded the i3 by three years, while e-quat­tro (an elec­tri­cally-pow­ered rear axle) has been ready for pro­duc­tion for years but re­mains un­de­ployed.

Only now is the first e-tron Audi upon us. It, like the wider com­pany, has its work cut out.

Crit­ics ar­gue that Stadler and his team have been too con­ser­va­tive for too long

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.