Even as the European auto market suffers in general, the German luxury brands are hatching new ideas to reach well-to-do buyers who are managing to stay above the recessionary fray.
They’re bursting on to the scene with new retailing concepts, including Audi City — which just opened in London in time for the London Olympics crowds — and BMW’s avant garde showroom in Paris.
Peter Schwarzenbauer, Audi AG’s head of marketing and sales, essentially speaks for the industry when he notes that “people are placing greater emphasis than ever before on a direct and personal bond of trust with their vehicle brand – especially in respect of the increasing variety of products and available information.”
This global emphasis on extending and executing the vehicle brand on dealership real estate has been reflected lately, of course, in initiatives by Lexus and BMW alike to train and deploy vehicle-technology and –delivery specialists to hand-hold customers in showrooms, similar to how Apple staffs its “Genius Bar” with helpful whizzes.
With the first Audi City store now open in London, the goal is "creating a one-stop shop for experiencing our brand," as Schwarzenbauer put it. The prototype uses screens to showcase the entire range of Audi products including all colors and equipment options. Customers can view the vehicle they’ve configured in a life-size version on screens.
“This new retail format brings us even closer to our customers – geographically, of course, but first and foremost in terms of the quality of our relationship,” Schwarzenbauer said.
In fact, Audi City will feature a customer-relationship manager at each store to provide a “highly personal customer dialogue” before, during and after the sale, part of what Audi believes will be a “previously unheard-of level of customer service.”
And Audi plans to use its Audi City stores as marketing tools for its mobility services and electric cars as well as brand spaces “beyond retail” for events such as readings, round-table discussions and exhibitions on issues such as urban development.
BMW, meanwhile, also is trying to appeal to green luxury buyers by selling them EV's online, figuring that it is an inexpensive way to reach customers for the pricey models and recoup some of the costs of a technology stream that remains mainly the province of green early adopters who often are wealthy.
And now, Volkswagen— not even a luxury brand — wants to set up shop on the Avenue des Champs-Elysees in France’s most famous shopping district. It would like to occupy a spot currently occupied by a Virgin store, according to Automotive News Europe, down the street from PSA / Peugeot-Citroen and Renault stores that represent indigenous French auto brands.