automotive

Audi's Brand Strength Is More Than Sales

Posted by Dale Buss on January 9, 2012 06:44 PM

Audi executives don't mind not having been a part of the sales-deadline drama that enveloped their two biggest rivals last week, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, as they played with the timing of BMW's victory in the 2011 luxury-sales race in the U.S. market. They're looking at the bigger picture and the longer term for their nascent brand in America, and they like what they see.

"Sales are a decent scorecard, but there are things that go significantly beyond sales," Scott Keogh, CMO of Audi of America, told brandchannel today at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, where Audi unveiled an outdoorsy version of its Q3 small utility vehicle that it expects to begin selling in the U.S. by 2014. "True luxury leadership comes from being the thought leader in the segment, not necessarily the sales leader."

Clearly, Keogh and other Audi executives have thought through the great opportunities for their brand in 2012 after posting a 16-percent sales increase in the U.S. last year — and yet still seeming to fly a bit under the radar as BMW and Mercedes-Benz fought rather furiously through December until they could determine which one had sold more units for the year, with BMW taking the title that Lexus had claimed for 11 years.

So Keogh ticked off a number of areas in which Audi leads or arguably could be perceived as leading in the U.S. market that, he maintained, add up to "thought leadership" that will redound to the good of the brand in many ways over the long term. They included Audi's segment-leading and highly successful promotion of clean diesel as a drivetrain alternative in the U.S., the use of aluminum to make vehicle chassis lighter-weight, and its promotion of the four-cylinder, entry-level end of the U.S. luxury market with its highly popular A4.

Audi also expects a parade of 18 new or improved models in 2012, many in the U.S., to help continue its momentum.

And another thing: How much Americans are willing to pay for Audis these days compared with what they'll pay for BMWs and Mercedes. Keogh said that the average transaction price of an Audi five years ago was 27 percent less than for comparable competitors' vehicles — and now that gap is only 7 to 8 percent.

"People are buying into our brand's strength," he said. "We'll have another record year" in 2012.

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