NICE, France - Audi is failing to reach production targets for its aluminum-bodied A2 because of quality problems.
Werner Mischke, the A2's chief engineer, admitted production of Audi's new small car was running behind schedule. But he said: 'Quality is more important to us than quantity.'
Mischke was speaking at the launch of Audi's new upper-medium A4 here.
Jurgen Gebhard, member of the Audi board with responsibility for A2 production, has resigned. Audi denied his departure was connected with A2 production problems.
There is also concern within Audi about slow A2 sales and the late arrival of turbodiesel models. Now senior managers at Audi are questioning the A2's marketing approach.
Erich Schmitt, Audi board member responsible for supply and procurement, said. 'We have not succeeded in bringing our message across that the A2 - even with just 75hp - is a better performer and more fun to drive than its competitors.'
But it is the problem with quality at Audi's plant in Neckarsulm, Germany, that is causing the most concern.
Neckarsulm also makes the upper-luxury A8 and is the center of aluminum car production for Audi. The first A2s were produced at the plant in November 1999. The car was launched in late June 2000.
Audi planned to sell 20,000 A2s in western Europe by the end of the year - 40 percent in Germany. According the latest JATO sales estimates, Audi sold 11,324 A2s in western Europe to the end of October. About 50 percent were in Germany.
Audi spokesman Udo Rugheimer said Neckarsulm would be able to fix the A2's quality problems in cooperation with suppliers. He added that Audi was working to improve availability of the A2's 1.4-liter TDI engine.
The A2 is the first mass-produced aluminum-bodied small car. The production process is proving to be more complex than Audi expected.
Schmitt admitted there are production problems, mainly with a new laser welding process.
'We are using very thin aluminum castings and the production technology is not running smoothly yet,' he said. 'This is the reason why the ramp-up program is behind schedule.'
At the launch of the A2, Audi announced a production target of 300 units a day. Production is currently running at 260 units a day.
Sources at the Neckarsulm plant say there have also been quality issues with the A2's curved rear window and door fittings. Reports in the German media have highlighted transmission and engine control unit problems.