Ingolstadt, Neckarsulm and the Italian way of life
Amazing things are happening in and around Ingolstadt. Imagine driving right into the centre of Munich into the Postpalast for the eve of the Audi annual press conference – what should first catch one’s attention? A Lamborghini! Beside it was a Ducati, the famous motorcycle brand that Audi acquired in 2012; much to the dismay of AMG. In November 2010 this highend modifier of Mercedes-Benz vehicles signed a contract for intensive marketing cooperation with the motorcycle manufacturer and itself had encouraged Daimler to purchase the brand. Apart from Ferdinand Piëch being a fervent fan of these motor cycles, on a more rational basis Audi wants to oust BMW not only from its throne as premium car manufacturer but also compete with the Bavarians on two fast wheels. Besides, with the acquisition of Ducati Audi is continuing a great past. Back in the 1950ies, the NSU Motorenwerke AG, or simply NSU, in Neckarsulm used to be the world’s biggest producer of motor bikes. The factory resumed car production in 1957 with the NSU Prinz and engineered such technologically advanced, if commercially unsuccessful cars, as the NSU Ro 80 in the 1960ies. In 1969 VW bought the whole company and Neckarsulm briefly became the headquarters for Audi. Nowadays Neckarsulm coexists with Ingolstadt as German production sites for the premium cars with their increasingly Italian flavour.
Stell Dir vor, Du kommst zu Audi nach Ingolstadt – und denkst, Du seist in Italien. Or, in other words: Imagine driving to Audi in Ingolstadt and ending up in Italy. A colourful parade of Lamborghinis, Ducatis and Audi cars lined the entrance to the Audi World in Ingolstadt. A similar scenario presented itself in Neckarsulm about two months later during the 124th Annual General Meeting of Audi AG. No doubt about it, Audi has has combined the Italian passion for design with its German dependability and fascination for hightech.
By now the secret is no longer a secret: Audi has become Audi Group hosting four brands of world renown: The Audi cars as such heralding premium in every respect, the Italian lightweight sportscar Lamborghini, Ducati motor cycles and Italdesign Giugiaro. It therefore comes hardly as a surprise that the company has turned Italian. The overriding idea is is to combine Audi hightech with Italian design.
Giugiaro has designed cars for renowned car manufacturers, many of which have become icons of style. One just has to think of the Lotus Esprit, the Lancia Delta and, of course, the first Golf and the Audi 80. The latter, incidentally, was the first Audi that Ferdinand Piëch, then CEO of technology, gave to his wife Ursula. In fact, the grandson of Ferdinand Porsche initiated groundbreaking innovations, most notably the permanent “quattro” all-wheel drive in 1980 and the diesel direct injection TDI in 1989. Having reached an age where most people enjoy their years of retirement Piëch is still presiding over Volkswagen Group. However, the one person he fully trusts is his wife Ursula. The patriarch and most powerful man in the car industry has consequently bequeathed his industrial inheritance to her.
We are Family …
After being elected member of the supervisory board of Volkswagen AG in April 2012, just one year later,
Ursula Piëch has also joined the supervisory board of Audi AG. The VW Group no doubt has essentially become a family affair with the Porsche and Piëch family members holding the majority of shares. Presenting herself to the shareholders in a short and rather personal speech, the former nursery school teacher and governess was refreshingly outspoken about her liaison with Ferdinand and how she became involved with cars. “I have always been curious and thus have had a vested interest in every new car or development.” She went on to narrate that her first Audi was an Audi 80, which as she remembers caused derisive smiles by the public. The same applied to the introduction of the four-wheel drive “quattro”. Audi was anything but a premium brand at that time. Undoubtedly, the rise of the clever, discreet and yet outspoken 57 year old Austrian has only just begun. She is surely on her way to becoming the most influential lady in the car industry, even more so, should VW really become the biggest car manufacturer worldwide, a target that CEO Martin Winterkorn has proclaimed for 2020. No sooner had Ursula Piëch stepped out into public, than she overtook two mighty females in the car industry, namely Maria-Elisabeth Schaeffler presiding over the huge supplier carrying her name and Susanne Klatten, BMW heiress and Germany’s wealthiest female ever.
As for Audi, with almost breathtaking speed the car manufacturer has managed to develop from a more or less non-descript VW annex in the 1960ies and 1970ies to a fully fledged autonomous and leading premium car manufacturer.
The Audi Way
And in spite of the overall tense economic situation, especially in Europe, Audi is growing against the tide, achieving one record after another. From January to 30th April 2013 sales have risen yet again. Approximately 503.000 cars have been sold, resulting in an increase of 6.7 percent. Another record: For the first time in the Audi history the company has passed the 500.000 mark after just four months. These impressive figures are not least due to the popular SUV family Q3, Q5 and Q7. And CEO Rupert Stadler confidently announced further growth for the months ahead: “We want to and will continue to grow.”
Audi is quite obviously mastering the tide against the odds. Spain has reached its lowest market volume since 1986, demand in Italy is back to the level of 1979. The automobile market as a whole has been thrown back by more than 33 years. In spite of all that, Audi has managed to grow, even in Europe. This growth has mainly been due to the United Kingdom where Audi in 2012 achieved a new sales record of more than 123.000 cars and an increase of seven percent compared with the year before. Even in Germany Audi managed to grow by 3.6 percent and for the first time has captured the throne on the home turf of the “big three” to become premium brand number one ahead of BMW and Mercedes-Benz.