He reflects on 2014 as the year when Audi “prepared the next quantum leap in new technology and growth”. He refers to the new digital dashboard in the TT as the start of a new generation of interiors for Audi’s cars and speaks passionately about autonomous technology, which Audi is championing through an autonomous RS7 concept that has lapped Hockenheim almost as quickly as a professional race driver and driven from San Francisco to Las Vegas. He says: “Things like this give us confidence and power internally.”
Stadler reveals that autonomous technology is “being prepared” as an option on the 2017 A8, although “any serious production ambitions will have to mean talk with law makers”.
Although autonomous cars are unlikely to play a huge part in Audi reaching its 2020 sales goal, one model that will is the Q1 compact SUV, which has been confirmed for launch next year. Beyond that, Stadler says there are more growth opportunities with Audi’s traditional A cars, as well as the Q SUVs.
He says: “We want to conquer new customers. The Q1 in mid-2016 will bring us volume growth. The A1 has been really successful at this also.” Stadler says Audi is working on new cars around and between the A6, A7 and A8 models, “the real premium class that has to be conquered with new and attractive models”. He adds: “There is room for more sporty models in these segments, and more Q models.”
Don’t expect an Audi smaller than the A1, though, or indeed one larger than the A8. “The A8 is still the crown,” he says “We’ll work on everything between the A6 and A8.” And the oft-rumoured A9? He’s “fine” with the A8 as the range-topper.
With so many new models planned, I ask Stadler if there is a danger of Audi running out of names, highlighting the fact that Fiat/Alfa Romeo owns ‘Q2’ and ‘Q4’. “There’s a little bit of discussion [on the Q2/Q4 names]…” he reveals. “There’s always a solution. The Q7 was Nissan’s… don’t worry.
“It’s not about the quality of the names you create. It’s more important that you define hierarchy. With the Q models, Q3/Q5 define the hierarchy. A1, A4, A6 – these names define hierarchy. At least Audi has a very clear picture. Look at the SUVs: it’s clear you can define price and size. The most important thing is simplicity and clarity.”
I put it to Stadler that many of these new models, particularly smaller ones such as the A1 and Q1, are challenging the perception of what a premium car now is.“A premium car used to be big, and we changed that with the A3,” he says. “All competitors followed. We conquered again with the A1 and did it in the right way. When the customer opens the door of an A1, it has the Audi look and feel. Premium is not a question of size. It is a question of appearance, and now it is also one of connectivity.”
Connectivity relates to the drip-feed of technology from the bigger models to the smaller ones. “The A1 was the first small car with a wi-fi hotspot,” Stadler says. He also expects the TT’s digital dash to appear across the whole range and eventually for autonomous technology to be available to the masses.
With such a large investment planned in new models, Stadler has overseen a reshuffling of the Audi management board. Development chief Ulrich Hackenberg has been recalled from Volkswagen, and he has appointed VW colleague Marc Lichte to oversee design.
The key new appointments are understood to be in response to two criticisms of Audi models: that they all look the same and drive without panache. Hackenberg and Lichte have also been chosen to ensure Audi remains on that quality path.