It's turning out to be another memorable year for Audi and CEO Rupert Stadler. Under Stadler's guidance, Audi is on course to finish the year with global sales of more than 1 million vehicles, beating its previous record of 1,003,469 set in 2008. The automaker's sales slipped 5.4 percent to 949,700 last year.
Audi is doing more than just selling a lot of cars: It is a money-making machine. Its operating profit rose more than 60 percent to 1.3 billion euros (about $1.7 billion) in the first half while revenue rose 21 percent to 17.6 billion during the same period. Audi predicts its earnings before interest and taxes will rise at a faster pace than revenue in 2010.
Surging demand for its products in China and the United States also has closed the sales gap between Audi and BMW in the race to be the world's No. 1 selling premium brand.
Audi's stated goal is to become the "most successful luxury automaker in the world by 2015," at which point it aims to sell 1.5 million cars a year.
Despite all the positive signs, Stadler, 47, stops short of saying Audi will reach its 2015 target ahead of schedule.
"Maybe we can achieve one or another sub-target a little bit earlier, but the most important thing is the brand-building process -- the recognition of the brand in the market; this is done only by offering substance. To do this, a lot of money needs to be invested in the right way. That is what we are doing," he said in an interview with Automotive News Europe. "Our target is to become the leading premium brand in the world. It won't happen in 2010. It won't happen in 2011. But someday it will happen."
One reason Audi is putting so much pressure on Mercedes and BMW is because of its leadership among premium brands in China and its rising sales in the United States.
In 2009, Audi delivered nearly 159,000 cars to customers in China and expects that number to rise to more than 200,000 units this year. Meanwhile, it has seen a double-digit rise in its U.S. sales.
Stadler said Audi is doing so well now because the carmaker stuck to its strategy regardless of what was happening in the world.
"A lot of brands hit the brakes. But we said that the key to future success was an attractive model range so we invested heavily in new technologies and product," Stadler said. "We didn't stop. We tried to make sure everything would continue, even during difficult times."
Because the company refused to alter its focus, Stadler says Audi is able to launch the A1 and the A7 this year and the all-new Q3 SUV in 2011.
"I would say that our strategy is mainly focused on product," Stadler said. "And product pays back."