German Automaker Invests In R&D, Markets To Younger Drivers
Long the de rigueur marque for China’s bureaucrats, Audi — facing increasingly stiff competition from the likes of BMW, Mercedes-Benz and even Cadillac — is working to overhaul its image in the country and appeal to a broadening base of younger drivers uninterested in the standard black A6. Though Audi sales in China remain high, with the automaker moving more than 400,000 units there last year, Beijing’s current directives to reduce official spending and opt for lower-end automakers have spurred the Audi marketing team to cut a different path this year.
To that end, this week Audi launched its first Asian interactive digital showroom in Beijing. As Bloomberg notes:
The 2,100-square meter (22,600 square feet) showroom at the Oriental Plaza in the Wangfujing shopping district can display 14 vehicles and features six floor-to-ceiling projection walls that can call up as many as 100 million vehicle combinations through touch-screen tables. Staff are dressed in sweaters and khakis, rather than the usual business suits, to project a younger and more leisurely image.
To attract more Chinese consumers, Audi has introduced sport-utility vehicles and sports cars like the TT and R8, [Luca de Meo, member of the management board at Audi] said. Private individuals account for nine out of every 10 customers in China today, he said.
Also as part of Audi’s rebranding effort, the automaker recently followed competitors like GM in opening a dedicated R&D center in China. Located in Beijing’s hip 751 D-Park — a hotspot for design and fashion firms — the center will focus on product customization for the Asian market, particularly in regards to electronics, components, and energy-efficiency. Despite its (very) recent moves to widen its appeal, Audi will have a hard time matching the record sales it’s racked up in China over the past decade if incoming Chinese president Xi Jinping’s stated goal of encouraging cadres to cruise around in domestic brands actually has teeth.
That said, Audi has been one of the most successful Western premium brands in terms of using Chinese social media, and if the brand can leverage its digital talents to promote its sportier models to a younger audience, losing some of its devoted bureaucratic buyer base (and the stiff-and-staid associations they bring) could be a godsend for Audi in the long run.