THE RAPID expansion of Audi's product lineup is astounding and even a little scary. You think that Mercedes-Benz has re-invented itself? What about Audi?
A few years ago there were two Audis: the 100 and the 80. Now there is the A8, A6, A4, and A3. Soon there will be TT two-seat coupe and roadster, the AL2 and the Allroad Quattro, shown in Detroit.
There may be a W-12-powered supercar, too.
The steady but rapid expansion shows the deep belief that Volkswagen Chairman Ferdinand Piech has in Audi.
Piech is personally responsible for Audi's reputation as a technological leader. Few individuals have ever done more for a brand.
But Mercedes' problems with the A-class and Smart car show the risks of expanding too rapidly.
Audi has not been as radical as Mercedes, and Audi is a great all-purpose brand.
But the image is not yet perfectly set. It is somewhere below BMW, somewhere above Lancia, Alfa Romeo, Saab and probably even Volvo.
The wrong products could undermine Audi just as it is reaching a new plateau. But risks are inevitable. Audi's ambitious extension of the brand is a dangerous game, but one worth pursuing.