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Audi prepares large car onslaught

7-up: Audi’s new A7 Sportback (left) due later this year is expected to entice buyers away from the A6 sedan, similar to how the A5 Sportback has drawn attention away from the A4.

A6, A7 Sportback, A8 and Q8 coming from Audi, but only one will expand volume

2 Apr 2018

AUDI Australia will launch a fresh model onslaught with the new A6, A7 Sportback, A8 and Q8 due before 2018 ends, however it has forecast only the latter large SUV will drive sales growth.

Speaking with GoAuto at the national media launch of the R8 RWS at Phillip Island last week, Audi Australia director of product planning and pricing Shawn Ticehurst said that passenger car growth was not expected even with a new-generation large and upper-large sedan line-up set to debut.

“You always anticipate cars at that higher end, their volumes will drop off towards the end of a lifecycle, that’s a natural effect in that market,” he said.

“(But) we wouldn't chase huge growth in its class. We wouldn't say our new models are going to necessarily grow that segment, and that wouldn't be our core focus.

“What we'd focus on is making sure we’ve got some growth out of them, but making sure the customers buying those cars are really happy with them.”

 center imageLeft: Audi Australia director of product planning and pricing Shawn Ticehurst

Sales of the A6 sedan and Avant plummeted 39.1 per cent in 2017, from 517 to 315 units, while the A7 Sportback fell 52.1 per cent from 165 to 79 sales last year.

Meanwhile, its new BMW 5 Series rival soared 128.4 per cent to 1245 units, and the Mercedes-Benz found 49.2 per cent growth in its E-Class with 1896 sales over a full calendar year.

Asked whether Audi would challenge its German competitors for sales growth given the A6 would enter a new generation, Mr Ticehurst replied: “That's not our core focus, not for a car like that.”

One variant Audi Australia would continue to support, however, was a niche product such as the A6 Allroad, the new generation of which has not yet been unveiled.

“That is never a high volume car, we would never plan for it to be a high volume car, but the customers of that car are amongst some of our most loyal buyers, and it says something about Audi, that Allroad concept,” Mr Ticehurst said.

“The concept’s now starting to be mimicked by others in the industry, so it says so much about the brand, and that it pays so many dividends in that direction that the volume question isn't the key one.

“It’s about just making sure each model plays a role in one of those areas, the brand anyway.”

Mr Ticehurst said the complete model range for the new large car cohort was currently being finalised, but we could expect them to be the first to feature a simplified model grade and options range – as has previously been announced as a future change in strategy.

These vehicles would become the new director of product planning and pricing’s first major assignment after a three decades at BMW Australia, most recently in a near-identical role.

Reducing the number of diesel engines was less likely, meanwhile, which Mr Ticehurst confirmed still sold in strong numbers in large cars.

There was, however, potential for A6 buyers to flock to A7 Sportback, the latter new-generation model of which Mr Ticehurst did see as taking up the slack between the large cars – as has been the case between the depressed A4 and booming A5 Sportback in the medium class.

“We’ve seen A5 Sportback grow nicely, so we’ve seen people come out of A4 sedans, and look at A5 Sportback,” he said.

“So that’s interesting in that segment people are going to these newer body styles, the new concept styles … that gives people the four doors, gives them that practicality side of it, but then gives them a sporty style as well, and I think that's what Australians are starting to gravitate towards.

“A8 and A6 are well known and established, and then that’ll be good to have new versions of those cars, but for A7 to go into its second version with such a cool design, and then Q8 to come … which is a perfect car for Australia with a great design (into) a booming segment.”

Previewed by the Q8 Concept at the Detroit motor show in January 2017, and then the Q8 Sport Concept at the Geneva show in March that year, the production version of the large luxury SUV will arrive in December, Mr Ticehurst confirmed.

With the A8 limousine also following the sales decline of A6 and A7 Sportback – down 37.5 per cent in 2017 from 56 to 35 sales – it was clear that a brand new nameplate would trump all three established nameplates for growth potential.

Asked whether the Q8 would further skew Audi’s total sales volume away from passenger cars and towards SUVs, the local executive replied: “Over the longer term, or over the next two years, yeah, I think it will.

“Given how well cars in that segment do in the Australian market, to throw something like Q8 in there that will be a great looking car in a segment that does very well … Q7 has been successful for Audi, so it’s just come so nicely off the back of that.

“SQ7 is a good S-model that’s had a really good proportion of sales in the Q7, so that’s what gives us confidence in Q8, and when we’ve shown the car to our dealers there is a resounding applause from dealers.

“The Q8, by its nature, will be a sportier concept, so it'll take all those things people love about a Q7 with high position, plenty of space, a nice luxury feel about the car, but then put a sportier twist on it, so it’ll be positioned above Q7.”

Mr Ticehurst added that moving buyers from A4 to A5 Sportback, from A6 to A7 Sportback, and even from A8 into Q8, was a good thing given that Audi has declared it wants to focus on boosting brand image over increasing sales in 2018.

Asked to nominate the biggest challenge ahead for the Australian division of the Ingolstadt car-maker this year, he replied: “I'd say for Audi to expand now beyond its traditional core base, and show the strength of Audi at that higher end.

“And that’s where cars like Q8 and A7 (come in). They’re challenges, but they’re good opportunities at the same time,” he said.

“Yes, sales have come off from where they were in 2016, but it's about getting the sustainable growth that's been talked about in the past, and making sure our whole business model is right.

“That our dealer network is happy, and our dealer network is operating the best they can, and knowing we’re doing everything we can to operate in the right way for that positive, sustainable growth rather than chasing volume at any cost.”

After finishing last year having fallen 9.3 per cent from 24,258 to 22,011 sales, Audi Australia has sunk by a further 9.3 per cent from 3736 to 3390 units year-to-date to the end of February.

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