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Geneva show: A1 to take aim at Audi adversaries

Nearly on the road: Audi's smallest ever model will pack top-end technology.

Audi announces rock star reveal for A1, alongside RS5, A8 Hybrid and Geneva surprise

Audi logo25 Feb 2010

By MARTON PETTENDY

POP star Justin Timberlake will undrape the all-new A1 at Geneva’s 80th motor show opening next week, when the German luxury juggernaut has also committed to staging world public debuts of its new RS5 performance coupe, the ‘near-production’ A8 Hybrid and a “surprise” new concept car.

The Volkswagen premium brand’s highest-profile ambassador has featured in previous instalments of the ongoing online launch campaign for Audi’s smallest - and potentially best-selling - model, which enters production in Brussels late this year and goes on sale in Australia in early 2011.

Audi plans to sell some 80,000 versions of its all-new micro-hatch annually, which it has now also confirmed is forecast to achieve a sizeable 80 per cent conquest rate, with four-fifths of sales going to shoppers of premium compact cars like BMW’s Mini, Alfa Romeo’s Mito and the Mercedes-Benz A-class.

Responding to the ten most popular questions posed on Audi’s A1 micro-site, global sales and marketing chief Peter Schwarzenbauer said Audi expected one-fifth of A1 sales to be substitutional for other Audi models.

“We did intense clinics around Europe and we can say that we expect a conquest rate of around 80 per cent,” he said. “That is extremely high, so it is clear that this car will attract a lot of new customers to the Audi brand.” Mr Schwarzenbauer said the A1 was designed primarily for western Europe and, as such, key markets were expected to be Germany, Great Britain, France and Italy. He said that, for now, the A1 would not be sold in North America or China.

“Currently we do not plan to launch the A1 in the US. However, we recently started a study across the US to determine the future potential of this car. I am pretty sure that in a few years time we will be able to successfully launch the A1 on the US market.

“In China we are currently launching the A3, which is the first premium car in the compact car segment. We are ready to launch the A1 at any time and we are prepared to do so whenever we need it.” Asked if Audi’s decision not to sell the A1 under a separate sub-brand like the Mini is would be a disadvantage, Mr Schwarzenbauer said: “I see this as a real advantage, because the strong brand reputation of Audi will help us to introduce the A1.

“And it will appeal to a lot of new customers. I previously mentioned a conquest rate of around 80 per cent. Obviously we expect to keep those customers within the brand and buying other models in the future.”

7 center imageMr Schwarzenbauer said Audi would embark on a “completely new” media strategy for the A1 to attract an all-new target group to the model, including an “outstanding” and “very emotional” new television commercial and “some really surprising material online within the next few weeks”.

The head of Audi sales and marketing said it was “conceivable” the brand could develop a model even smaller than the A1 in future – potentially based on VW’s sub-light-sized Up! platform - but ruled out any current plans to do so.

In a previous A1 media release, Audi technical development boss Michael Dick last week revealed a number of key details of the A1.

“We are venturing into new terrain with the A1,” said Mr Dick. “It defines an entirely new model series and will be the first premium automobile in the small compact segment.” Describing it as a grown-up compact car, Mr Dick said no competitor could match the A1’s unique, powerful design, distinctive roof arch, LED headlights, top-end infotainment systems and cabin quality and personalisation options.

He said highlights of the A1’s lightweight chassis, which is similar to the new Volkswagen Polo's and incorporates a front electronic differential lock and ESP electronic stability control, were “weight distribution, the very direct (14.8:1 ratio, electro-hydraulic) steering and the painstaking suspension set-up.” In the latest salvo on the A1, after testing it with Audi chassis development chief Dr Horst Glaser, German touring car driver Markus Winkelhock pronounced Audi's newest model the “Benchmark in the small compact class”.

Dr Glaser said the A1's combination of a sophisticated chassis - comprising "perfect tuning" of the front axle bearings, anti-roll bars, springs and dampers, the latter two separated in the rear torsion-beam suspension - balanced weight distribution and low centre of gravity "is a guarantee for maximum driving enjoyment".

Four engines - two petrols and two diesels - have been confirmed from launch, at least in Europe, all combined as standard with brake energy recuperation and idle-stop systems to reduce fuel consumption.

Also seen in the Polo, due here in May, and Skoda's facelifted Fabia and Roomster, which will also debut at Geneva, the downsized direct-injection turbocharged powerplants are claimed to offer strong performance and “set new efficiency standards” by substituting forced induction for displacement.

The A1’s economy leader is the 67kW 1.6 TDI manual, which will be among the world’s most efficient cars with claimed average fuel consumption of just 3.8 litres per 100km and CO2 emissions of 99 grams per kilometre.

Apart from listing a 5.4L/100km fuel economy figure for the least frugal A1, no statistics are given for the flagship A1, fitted with VW’s crisp new 1.2-litre TSI turbo-petrol engine, which dishes out up to 78kW and 175Nm in the latest Polo, Fabia and Roomster.

Both engine variants will be available in Europe with manual and seven-speed dual-clutch S-tronic automatic transmissions.

Audi has also released details of the A1’s top-end infotainment, multimedia and customisation systems, including what’s claimed will be a best-in-class Bose sound system.

Standard equipment will be a ‘chorus’ audio unit, while the mid-range ‘concert’ system comprises a separate retractable 6.5-inch screen and a ‘Ready for Nav’ option transforms the radio into a navigation system via an SD card.

Top of the range is the A1’s MMI Navigation Plus media system, which adds three-dimensional images, voice-activation of all functions, a 20GB hard-drive, DVD/MP3/WMA/AAC/MPEG player, card reader, Bluetooth connectivity and full vehicle system functionality via the same console-mounted joystick and push-buttons that are found in more expensive Audis.

Claimed to be unique in the light-car segment is the A1’s optional 465-Watt Bose surround sound system, a “high-end” audio unit that uses a ten-channel amplifier to power no fewer than 14 speakers – including LED-lit woofers in the doors - in 5.1 surround sound.

Expect the A1 to land Down Under early next year in both three-door and yet-to-be-revealed five-door body styles, priced below the Audi A3 three-door (which opens at around $35,000) but above its Volkswagen Group cousins in the Polo, which is currently priced between about $17,000 and $27,000.

Audi AG chairman Rupert Stadler will answer his ten top online questions in the final chapter of the A1’s pre-reveal activity, which included the A1's official online reveal earlier this month, on the eve of the A1's Swiss unveilling.

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