Audi will decide before the end of 2015 whether to set up a U.S. manufacturing plant, Johan de Nysschen, president of Audi of America Inc., said.
Audi's U.S. sales are forecast to exceed 150,000 units by the second half of the decade, giving the brand the volume it would need to justify manufacturing in the United States, de Nysschen said.
"We have to earn the right to set up a manufacturing plant in the U.S. It is volume determined," de Nysschen said on Tuesday in a webcast summing up Audi's 2010 U.S. performance. "You need a critical mass in order to justify investment in the plant."
De Nysschen did not say whether Audi would build a factory or share Volkswagen brand's new plant in Chattanooga, where the all-new Passat designed for the United States is being built.
De Nysschen forecast Audi will sell 114,000 vehicles in the United States this year, up from 101,629 in 2010. The sales increase will be driven by demand for the new-generation A8 flagship sedan launched late last year, the all-new A7 coupe and the redesigned A6 due later this year, he said.
De Nysschen said Audi expects U.S. sales to reach 130,000 to 140,000 by mid-decade.
Audi's growth in 2011 will be constrained by limited supplies because of high worldwide demand. According to the Automotive New Data Center, Audi had a 28 day-supply on March 1.
"We have become the victims of our own success," and because of the shortage of vehicles "we have not attained all the retail sales opportunities we have had available to us," he said.
In the U.S. market, supplies of the Q5, Q7, A3, along with diesel versions of the Q7 and A3, are especially tight.
Audi is ramping up production but de Nysschen said he did not expect inventories to improve until "towards the end of the year."
Because of the tight supply, about 25 percent of Audis sold in the United States are presold customer orders, he said.
De Nysschen also said that because of healthy demand for diesel-powered versions of the A3 hatchback and Q7 crossover, Audi will add diesel powerplants to the A8 and A6 sedans, and the smaller Q5 crossover within the next 24 to 30 months.
On the dealer side, Audi now has 144 exclusive stores that account for 79 percent of the brand's customer deliveries in the United States, de Nysschen said. Audi has 270 dealers in the United States and expects the number of exclusive stores to grow to 150 by the end of 2011, he said.