Aug 2, 2008

Business - The challenger from Ingolstadt

Audi is making a very discreet yet powerful statement in India.

All right! Mercedes-Benz stands for luxury and BMW for sportiness, but what about Audi? The whiz-kids from the small town of Ingolstadt, near Munich, would widen their eyes, hold their breath and say, “Vorsprung durch Technik.”

Loosely translated, that means advancement through technology, which applies not just to the way Audi builds its cars but also to the concern for environment and a host of things nice and new-age German.

But you ask an enthusiast what separates the average Merc and Beemer from an Audi and she would tell you, “Quattro.” The quattro badge on the boot lid of a car promises that it is dynamically safer and sharper than the one you are travelling in.

Audi achieves this by sending power to all the four wheels instead of the rear wheels alone, as in the case of the traditional luxury cars built by Mercedes and BMW.

Advantage? The traction on all four ends of the car equals safety in almost all weather conditions. But those who understand automotive production and platform-sharing will tell you it is a smart way to re-engineer a Volkswagen Golf into something called an A4 or, for that matter, an already well-built VW Passat into something that can sell for double the price once labeled A6.

Yup, the VW Group shares plenty of underpinnings and engine-gearbox combinations across its brand range. So the mass-produced VW Golf comes from a platform that also gives birth to the sporty Audi TT and the entry-luxury Audi A4, apart from a host of Skodas and Seats.

But quattro is unique to Audi and it embellishes only the more powerful and sportier models. For instance, you can book the new Audi A4 only in the quattro edition if you are opting for a petrol model. But if you want something more economical and practical for our country, you can go for the A4 diesel that powers the front wheels alone — like VW Golf.

Apart from Quattro, Audi builds its cars carefully from a rather relaxed car plant where more attention to detail results in some exquisite machinery. And, of course, the quality of materials and surfaces ensures that Audi competes with the best.

In India, A4 and A6 are being assembled from “disassembled kits” at the Aurangabad facility of Skoda. Soon this facility will become an assembly unit for cars.

Will the traditional Indian car buyer appreciate the technological leap that Audi represents or will she stick to her Mercs and BMWs? Come September, Audi will officially launch R8 — a monster of a sports car that can stun Italians with its mid-mounted 420 bhp V8 that will retails for over Rs 1 crore. A supercar? In India?

Yup, and so what if it will not sell in large numbers; it will attract more luxury car buyers to Audi dealerships and help populate our roads with more A4s and A6s, which incidentally are competitively priced against Mercedes C-Class and BMW 3 Series, and E-Class and 5 Series, respectively.

If you have not got the plot yet, here goes. The VW Group is flexing its muscles big time in India, and Audi has a big role to play. Today it sells UK-made Bentley, made-in-Italy Lamborghini Gallardo and Murcealago, Czech-conceived Skoda, and quality cars that bear the four-rings, apart from launch pad VW models such as Passat and Jetta in India.

The larger dealer and service network may also mean better care for Audi models across the nation. So the fellow Germans do have a reason to worry. Audi has just started.

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