It would be easy to label Audi’s success on some of its most exciting ventures. Motorsport for example, is a sector where Audi has seen years of untouchable performances leading to countless wins and championships. What about its high-powered road going sports cars? The R8 is no doubt a car with serious bragging rights for the German marque, punching well above its price range with supercar performance and everyday usability. Or even cars like the Quattro, an out-and-out game changing sports car that remains today iconic in the legacy it leaves behind. Yes, it would be easy to label these exciting successes as the reasons for Audi’s growth, but it wouldn’t be accurate.
That’s because Audi’s biggest sellers in recent times have in fact been practical, popular and far less exciting saloon cars and SUVs. The range topping R8 may be highly desirable, whilst the results of some unbelievable on-track success might steal headlines, but it’s cars like this A3 saloon and this Q6 SUV that make the subject titles in Audi’s internal sales figures emails. With thousands of ‘rep-mobile’ sales in the UK receiving some form of Audi shaped saloon, and thousands of families choosing a Four-Ringed steed to transport the children to and from school, Audi offers far more than oil-burning performance vehicles. In fact, despite their head-turning capabilities, those performance vehicles are the smaller contributors to Audi’s success.
The US, with its 317 million or so citizens enjoying roads often twice the size of the tarmac ribbons found on Old Blighty, demands a large percentage of Audi’s SUV supply. Larger family vehicles are still the norm stateside, meaning small cars like the comparably tiny A1 are few and far between the tarmac chewing off-roaders. This is emphasised by the 40,355 Q5s sold in US in 2013 alone, contrasted by just 857 A3 sales (goodcarbadcar.net).
In Europe however, hatchbacks are still amongst the most popular cars meaning the little A1 and larger A3 dominate urban UK roads. But with the US market being so large, and emerging markets such as China being hungry for larger, ‘status-vehicles’ like crossovers and SUVs, it wouldn’t be surprising to see sales of Audi’s larger cars grow most significantly. Evidence for this can be found when the success in China of the “locally-built Q3” is acknowledged.
Perhaps Asia, an area of the fastest growth in car demand, is the main reason Audi, a brand once fully focused on saloons and sports cars, is now producing such a range of SUVs and crossovers. This Autocar review article also does a good job of highlighting Audi’s business attitude of ‘covering all markets’. Introducing its Q5 SUV, the article acknowledges that this car, along with its SUV siblings, was created in order for Audi to offer a product to what is a growing area of demand, led by developing nations in the East. As explained by Paul Harris in his Photographic History of Transport of Audi, Audi’s business desire to produce only what is heavily demanded has meant that only cars that are viable are put into production. That might sound like a wise business choice, but Audi takes it a step further by following market demand once it has clearly stated its position; in some ways this removes any chance of Audi creating anything out of the ordinary, something unexpected.
So Audi may be a car maker famous for its Le Mans wins, iconic rally cars, exciting R8 sports car and M3 chasing super-saloons, but its only thanks to the brand’s far less exciting, practical cars that it can generate such revenue to build these poster-boys. They may not be desirable to petrolheads of the world, but in many ways we should be thankful cars like the A3 and Q5 exist; without them Audi probably wouldn’t be able to pile so much cash into a certain multimillion Pound endurance race for starters.
Sales figures for US: goodcarbadcar.net