What is the size of your dealer network in China?
Last year, we opened more than one dealer a week in China and were at about 300 at the end of 2012. We will continue at this pace for the coming years with a target of having about 500 dealers by 2017. Right now, we still have no presence in half of the more than 300 Chinese cities with populations of more than 1 million people. In terms of market coverage, that's like only being present in Germany in Berlin and Hamburg.
Which premium-car segment will grow the fastest globally?
The SUV segment is one of the fastest growing segments worldwide. Many customers pick those cars because of their unique design, their practicality and their comfortable driving position. I believe that this is a pretty solid global trend. What differs depending on the market is size. In Russia, for example, customers prefer full-sized SUVs such as the Q7. In China, mid-sized SUVs like the Q5 are preferred.
Do you foresee any other changes for the premium market in the next five to 10 years?
I think we could see a specific kind of downsizing with a new generation of downsized engines. This will happen because of increasing emissions regulations around the world. Smaller but truly high-tech, these premium engines will offer a perfect combination of power and driving pleasure.
Will the downsizing trend force you to stop making eight-, 10- and 12-cylinder engines?
A premium manufacturer needs products that demonstrate the core competence and craftsmanship that set its brand apart. With cylinder-on-demand, we at Audi have brought a truly sophisticated technology on the road: eight cylinders for the highway, four while cruising in the city. Also, drivers will not be disappointed by the performance of a four-cylinder unit with three turbos. The key is not displacement but the engine's level of featured technologies.
What is more important for a premium brand: core values or meeting regional demands?
Premium manufacturers have to focus on consistent global brand positioning. Of course, some market-based product adaptations are made, like suspension settings, but the basic product remains the same.
Does Made in Germany still matter to costumers?
What's important is: Made by Audi. We promise our customers German engineering and quality. It is crucial that every Audi is produced to the same standards all over the world.
The A3 sedan was specifically conceived for the United States and China, but it is also coming to Europe now. Why?
At first, this model was designed specifically for markets such as China and the U.S., where today nearly every second premium car sold is a sedan. But during its development, we could see that this concept had great potential to be a success in even more markets. I am convinced that this car has a very good chance in Europe, too. In Germany or the UK, it has great potential for business customers, for example. The car is cool and sporty enough to attract the so-called user-chooser fleet consumers. I also see good potential in Russia, where the sedan is still one of the preferred body styles.
Is the A3 sedan a potential second model for your new Mexican plant?
We will start the production in our Mexican plant in 2016 with the Q5. And we are pushing the global expansion of Audi's industrial footprint even further: At the end of this year, we will open our second Chinese factory in Foshan, to build the A3 sedan for the local market. And we are expanding our site in Gyor, Hungary, to build the A3 sedan for the rest of the world.
What's the U.S. sales target for the A3 sedan?
We are pretty confident that this car will take our success story in the U.S. to a new, higher level. In recent years, we have substantially enhanced our market position and brand image in the USA, especially in the full-sized segment. In 2012, our full-sized models (the A6, A7, A8, Q7) accounted for 32 percent of our total U.S. sales, up from 19 percent in 2009. And we are now betting very strongly on diesel as we believe that there is real potential. Half of the A3 models and 30 percent of the Q7s we sold there last year were equipped with a TDI engine. And this year, we are extending our diesel offensive by launching TDI versions of the A6, A7, A8 and Q5. Another priority in the U.S. is to further push the sportiness of the brand with models such as the S6, S7, S8 and SQ5.
Is it confusing to U.S. costumers to push fuel-saving diesels at the same time as gasoline-hungry S models?
Sporty character and efficiency are not contradictory for Audi. This can be seen in the new RS 6 Avant. Thanks to lightweight construction and intelligent downsizing, it weighs nearly 100kg less than the previous model and consumes 30 percent less fuel despite higher performance on the road. I think both ways are important to further Audi's position in the U.S. We are kind of the new kid on the block there that still has lots of potential.