Wise Audi: The New A8 Seeks Prestige, Not Big Volume

I sat down with Audi of America President Johan de Nysschen last week to chat about the brand’s plans for the U.S. market. As de Nysschen prepares to launch the new A8 sedan later this year, he had a few refreshing things to say. The first was that he thinks Audi should cap its growth in the U.S. He thinks that the sporty luxury brand should max out its U.S. sales volume somewhere between 150,000 and 200,000 cars – almost twice what the brand sells in a typical year but still less than its chief rivals have sold in the market. His thinking is that luxury brands can become ubiquitous and lose their cachet; the next thing that goes is pricing power. Cadillac and Lincoln both lost their luster in the ’80s and ’90s in part because they were in a mad race to sell more cars than the other. By the end of the ’90s, both brands had cars everywhere. Having fleets of Town Cars and Devilles lined up with the taxis at airports probably didn’t help. His other push is to keep moving Audi upscale.

Make no mistake, Audi wants growth. It is the top seller in Europe and China these days. In the U.S. this year, sales have surged 25%. Only Cadillac has outpaced its growth among luxury brands. But the brand would rather have prestige than gaudy sales numbers. Audi’s U.S. sales of 86,000 cars is less than half Lexus’s total. Take the new A8 that hits showrooms in November. Its starting price of $78,050 is about $2,000 more than the current car. Audi is loading up the car with a slew of new technology, like an 8-speed transmission that boosts fuel economy. The car will get 27 mpg on the highway, 4 mpg better than rival BMW’s ActiveHybrid 7i. It will also have a night vision system, a Bang and Olufsen sound system and, starting next year, a WiFi hot spot in the car. Later next year, the company will start selling the A7, a prestige coupe to compete with BMW’s 6-series.

Bottom line, the brand is moving into more expensive models, not big sellers. That’s the kind of thinking that has pushed Audi into the top tier of luxury brands along with BMW, Mercedes, and Lexus.

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