NECKARSULM, Germany -- Audi plans to launch a new flagship that may become a rival to the Mercedes-Maybach S class.
Audi said at its annual meeting that its range-topping A8 sedan line will be expanded to include a "new, luxurious" derivative.
"We are thinking about revolutionizing the top-end class with a completely new concept for the A8," CEO Bram Schot told shareholders here on May 23.
The A8 family currently consists of short- and a long-wheelbase versions of Audi's flagship sedan.
When the A8 first debuted in 1994, Audi delivered a technological highlight with the all-aluminum body, helping establish the brand as an equal competitor with Mercedes and BMW.
However, Audi and premium rival BMW have struggled to break Mercedes' dominance of the high-end sedan market.
The Mercedes S class remains the top-selling upper-premium sedan and Mercedes has widened its appeal with a Maybach-badged version
Global sales of the Mercedes S class increased 7 percent to 77,700 last year, even though the model is aging and is due for renewal next year.
Robust demand for the Mercedes-Maybach S class in China has helped sales. More than 600 Mercedes-Maybach S class sedans are sold every month in the country, Daimler's China boss, Hubertus Troska, told reporters in April.
Global sales of the BMW 7 series dropped 13 percent in 2018 to 56,000. The A8's volume fell 6 percent to 20,000.
Audi's promise to shareholders that the new member of the A8 family would be a "particularly luxurious and prestigious derivative" indicates a direct competitor to the Mercedes-Maybach S 650, which starts at 202,770 euros in Germany, more than twice as expensive as the equivalent entry-level long-wheelbase version.
The addition of an ultraluxury A8 would help Audi squeeze more profits from its high-end cars to help pay for the huge investments for electric and self-driving cars, just as Mercedes is doing with the Maybach-badged S class and BMW is doing with is new 8-series flagship.
Audi said at its annual meeting that it will invest about 14 billion euros into electric mobility, digitalization and highly automated driving. "In order to finance its high upfront expenditure, Audi will systematically utilize available earnings potential, for example, by expanding its market position in the upper premium segments," the automaker said.
As part of the profit push, Audi also plans a significant increase in sales volumes and earnings at its Audi Sport line of high-performance R and RS models as they roll out new derivatives including the all new RS Q8.