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Audi's Attitudes (long, musing)
Some random observations regarding Audi's apparent apathy toward US
enthusists, and market positioning generally:
I have long thought that VW Corporate really has cotton in their ears with
respect to the US market. Seems they've always been more focused on the
European rather than American markets. (Not that we should throw stones. It
was only recently US makers thought to sell cars in Japan with right hand
steering wheels) They were very late to the US with airbags, for instance,
still selling the silly moving seatbelts even though they were selling
airbags in Europe (the smaller, safer kind) Secondly, it is amazing to me
that it took them so long to re-invent the Beetle. Why a company with such
an incredible franchise would abandon it entirely is a marketing mystery.
I'd argue that the beetle mystique has been up for grabs for years, ready to
be siezed by anyone (could've been the Dodge Neon, eg) just as Mazda
reinvented the british sports car (Lotus Elan or MG if you will...) .
Second thought: Audi's market positioning and presence in the US is perhaps
unique in the annals of auto marketing history owing to the near-death
experience of the unintended acceleration BS. They've been in a re-building
mode ever since, and in fact their image until the introduction of the A4
has been defined in the mind of JQ Public by 60 Minutes, not Hans Stuck.
Anyone in Audi marketing would've had a tough sell internally arguing to
bring the S2 to the US during a year they sold fewer than a thousand each of
Coupe Quattros and 200tqs. (Of course it's more complex than that. Any
school boy can identify an M3, while it takes an Audi cogniscenti (sp?) to
spot an S4/S6)
Finally: I agree that Audi marketing must be populated with dunderheads,
but so have been other german car mfrs. BMW has certainly been guilty in
the past of selling more sizzle than substance in the US market. Between
the 2002tii and the E30 series M3 were a lot of lackluster cars. The 320i
was far from the "Ultimate Driving Machine" I had a crack at working for
BMW NA in 1990 after busines school, and briefly had an insider's glimpse of
the company. Although it's hard to remember now, they were on the ropes
sales-wise. The newly launched Lexus and Infinti were eating their lunch,
because, (IMO) BMW's products were undifferentiated from the Japanese
alternatives which were BTW, cheaper. BMW just wasn't delivering on it's
image as the more sporting alternative to MB, and so Lexus/Infiniti market
growth came right out of their share. They responded with a torrent of
great cars, and, aided by an appropriately priced yen, and a cheaper mark,
rule the sports sedan roost again.
I sure believe that listening to enthusiasts has an importance far beyond
generating immediate sales to those same enthusiasts. Cars are unusual
consumer goods because they meet deep and complex psychological and
sociological needs. A smart car company ought to view something like the
the Q List as the Rosetta Stone with respect to understanding how their
products address those needs.
OK I've gotten carried away. But listen: there's something significant
going on when a grown men buy a perfectly good used car, only to throw away
the engine and spend the price of the car again on transforming the car into
one of that company's other products. It's amazing that a manufacturer
wouldn't want to explore that a bit.
'91 CQ + 3B = S2?