Audi of America Inc. had the misfortunate of introducing its new A4 sedan, described by Vice President Len Hunt as Audi’s “biggest launch ever,” in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
However, Mr. Hunt says Audi is still on track to set sales records for a consecutive year.
“We’re confident we’ll end up the year at an all-time record number of cars sold,” he says.
He estimates 2001 year-end sales to reach 83,000-84,000 units, compared to last year’s 80,372, an all-time record for the brand.
Although Audi did take a hit in September, with sales down 18.3%, Mr. Hunt says the automaker was bracing itself for worse figures due to the launch of the new A4.
“We had some extraordinary factors because our main car-selling line, the A4, was being fully renovated, in terms of the ‘01 model year,” he says. “We didn’t release the ‘02 model until the first week of October so we were expecting to be kind of down in September anyway.”
Since the launch of the new A4 in the beginning of October, Mr. Hunt says sales have picked up a bit. Audi is looking to hit over 6,000 for monthly sales, compared to 4,926 in September.
Says Mr. Hunt, “We’ll probably be down at the 5% number we thought it would be. We may even level off; it’s tight to call. For us it’s as fast as we can get the new cars out there. We’re literally chucking them all over the entire country.”
He says Audi dealers report increases in showroom traffic, after an 18%-20% drop immediately following the attacks. The northeast region, especially the New York area, experienced the most significant drop-off, but is now bouncing back.
Audi is continuing its dealer program introduced last year, dubbed PURE (Personal Unique Responsive Experience).
“We carved the country up into 29 areas,” says Mr. Hunt. “We’ve got 29 area executives and each one of them has got a PURE pilot dealer that is coming towards the end of their pilot period.”
He says each pilot dealer works out people systems and processes in terms of how they will meet customer-care goals.
When the pilot phase is complete, other Audi dealers will use the results at their stores. Mr. Hunt says the goal is to have 100 exclusive Audi dealers in the next three years, from 30 now. The plan demands “huge amounts of investment” from Audi dealers, he adds. However, Audi still will not be increasing its number of dealers in general, which currently number 265 in the U.S. and 35 in Canada.
Dave Andrea, an analyst with the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) in Ann Arbor, MI, says internal competition between Audi and parent Volkswagen AG could be a problem because of VW plans to launch a luxury sedan, codenamed D1.
“That internal competition will be interesting to watch to see how they balance that out,” says Mr. Andrea.
However, Mr. Hunt isn’t concerned, saying VW and Audi each appeal to a different type of buyer. “People that will buy a Volkswagen luxury segment car will be people that ascribe to and have sympathy with the Volkswagen brand values, as opposed to people who have Audis,” he says.