During a visit to the Shanghai motor show in 2010, a senior car industry executive posed me a very interesting question: ‘What do you think Audi will do in 10 year’s time?’
He didn’t have to explain much further, because his point was pretty obvious. Audi is seemingly committed to building every possible variation of car: everything from the A1 to the A10 will be in your local Audi showroom. Surely, by 2020, Audi - as well as BMW and Mercedes - will start to run up against the limits of the expansion of their portfolios?
The end of the decade will also see the massive growth in China petering out, if it hasn’t already been halted rather earlier. And while Western mass-producers might be facing competition from budget Chinese own-brand cars on their home territories, premium European brands are unlikely to face Chinese competition.
But what then? Where next for a big brand such as Audi? Is there, as many anti-capitalists have been insisting for decades, a limit to growth? It is, of course, incumbent on public company to keep searching for growth and expansion. If nothing else, it is a fine way of keeping a company and its employees on their collective toes.
But surely, after the opening up of China we’re simply running out of potential new consumerist territories? Where next on the planet for expansive carmakers?
Well, the post 2020-destination has already been identified and named. The ‘N-11’ or ‘Next 11’, identified by Goldman Sachs, are Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea, Turkey and Vietnam. After the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) expansion, the aspirational middle classes of the N-11 will be the next target of the European premium brands.
Then, perhaps, once those markets have become familiar with them we really will have run out of planet.