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German giant gets in gear: Audi is driving towards an electric future

EconomyGerman giant gets in gear: Audi is driving towards an electric future


At the dawn of the 1980s they heralded the start of the golden era of Audi as the then rather niche and little-known German car manufacturer began its rapid ascent.

The Reinhardts were a fictional German family who appeared in a famous UK TV advert that helped put Audi on the map. 

Lithe, tanned and super-cool, they were shown relaxing by the pool of their sunny mountain holiday villa in Spain.

Energized: Audi's e-tron GT quattro. The German brand plans to spend some €18bn on electrification and hybridisation between 2022 and 2026

Energized: Audi’s e-tron GT quattro. The German brand plans to spend some €18bn on electrification and hybridisation between 2022 and 2026

Two other German families, we are told, were less fortunate. The fatigued Schmidts, in their rather ‘slow and noisy’ car, needed ‘another holiday to get over this one’. 

The Muellers, driving ‘a big thirsty car’ were ‘probably at a petrol station somewhere between Munich and Marbella’.

But the smart Reinhardts, driving a new Audi 100, had no such concerns as they frolicked by the pool.

And as the sardonic narrator — veteran actor Geoffrey Palmer — jokes: ‘The moral of the story is, if you want to get to the beach before the Germans, you’d better buy an Audi. ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’, as they say in Germany.’ 

The dry British humour — and an odd German catchphrase — helped bring Audi to prominence.

Bright idea

This catchphrase was the brainchild of advertising guru Sir John Hegarty of agency BBH, who spotted the slogan — roughly translated as ‘a leap forward through technology’ — on an old poster at Audi’s Ingolstadt factory. But the advert nearly didn’t happen.

The British sense of humour and light-hearted references to Germans making beelines to be the first to arrive at the Spanish beaches didn’t poll well. 

Concept: Audi's idea for an electric city car model called the Urbansphere which was designed for use in traffic-dense Chinese megacities,

Concept: Audi’s idea for an electric city car model called the Urbansphere which was designed for use in traffic-dense Chinese megacities,

Spacious: The Urbansphere offers the largest interior space of any Audi to date

Spacious: The Urbansphere offers the largest interior space of any Audi to date

Thankfully, Audi bosses held their nerve and the advert aired.

And it’s lucky it did, as Audi is the premium brand powerhouse in the giant Volkswagen Group. 

And following recent restructuring, Audi is now leading the electrification charge.

Future estate: The A6 Avant e-tron is set to cost between £60,000-£70,000 when it goes on sale in 2024

Future estate: The A6 Avant e-tron is set to cost between £60,000-£70,000 when it goes on sale in 2024

And this week Audi gave another glimpse at the future by unveiling an all-electric autonomous concept city car model called Urbansphere.

Audi also recently revealed a near-production-ready prototype of its first all-electric estate car, the A6 Avant e-tron, which is set to cost between £60,000-£70,000 when it goes on sale in 2024. 

Its two electric motors can deliver 469 horsepower (350kW) and it promises a range of up to 435 miles as well as fast charging — with its system giving 186 miles of range in just ten minutes.

Six other landmark Audis 

Smart history

Audi’s history harks back to 1899 when August Horch set up the motor vehicle company known as Horch & Cie.

After a falling out with the board a decade later, he founded Audi Automobilwerk. Unable to use his own name — protected by trademark — he chose its Latin translation, so ‘horch’ — or ‘hark’ — became ‘audi’.

After the end of World War II, the firm moved to Ingolstadt in Bavaria and, after a period under Mercedes-Benz, was acquired by Volkswagen which itself had been saved and revived by the British.

A new Auto Union ‘Audi’ car, launched in 1965, with a four-stroke engine heralded the start of a new era. 

It was followed in 1968 by the Audi 100 — the first vehicle to have shaken off all genetic links with earlier models.

During the late 1990s, Audi’s then mercurial UK PR maestro Jon Zammett created a fleet of Audi limousine cars to chauffeur VIPs to red carpet events where, importantly, they were photographed.

The marketing blueprint was copied across the US, in Germany and Continental Europe, Australia and beyond, to great effect.

Star appeal: Robert Downey Jnr with a e-Tron GT at The World Premiere Of'Avengers: Endgame' on April 22, 2019 in Hollywood, California

Star appeal: Robert Downey Jnr with a e-Tron GT at The World Premiere Of ‘Avengers: Endgame’ on April 22, 2019 in Hollywood, California

From strength to strength

This strategy has paid off. Last year Audi was the UK’s highest selling premium brand and the second-highest selling car brand overall with 117,993 vehicle sales — around a 9.3 per cent rise on 2020 despite the pandemic and semiconductor shortages.

UK bestsellers last year were the Audi A3 (22,746); Q2 (14,469); A1 (14,203); Q5 (12,663); Q3 (12,362); and A4 (8,210). 

And nearly one in ten Audis sold were electric — 11,777 in total. The e-tron and e-tron Sportback were the best performing electric vehicles — accounting for 7,405 of Audi UK’s total 2021 sales and outselling the entire Q7 SUV line-up by almost two to one.

Lord of the Rings 

In 1932 Audi became one of four German companies to merge to form Auto Union – the others being DKW, Horch and Wanderer. 

The now familiar four interlocking rings became its symbol – and Audis to this day – and it became a major motor racing presence.

Audi is now leading the electrification charge not only of its own premium cars, but also has oversight over its partners at Britain’s Bentley and Italy’s Lamborghini as these luxury, performance and supercar brands develop their own electric cars within the VW Group.

Globally, Audi sold 1.68 million vehicles last year, of which 81,894 were electric — an increase of 57.5 per cent year-on-year — in an electrification programme that began with the premiere of the all-electric Audi e-tron SUV in 2018.

Audi plans to spend about €18billion on electrification and hybridisation between 2022 and 2026.

The firm said: ‘Audi set a strong example with the presentation of the e-tron GT and the RS e-tron GT at the start of 2021. The Q4 e-tron and the Q4 Sportback e-tron also play a central role.

‘With these four new models, Audi has more than doubled its product portfolio of fully electric models in the past year.’

By 2025, Audi aims to offer more than 20 models with all-electric drive, accounting for roughly 40 per cent of sales.

Director of Audi UK Andrew Doyle said: ‘The performance by Audi UK in 2021 was remarkable, securing a record-breaking market share of 7.2 per cent which cemented us as the number one premium brand

‘Our growing portfolio of fully electric e-tron models helped to accelerate that result and the continued appetite we are seeing in 2022 for our fully electric models, especially the Q4 e-tron and Q4 Sportback e-tron, will ensure our share of the EV market continues to grow.’

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