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September 19, 2016

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Home » Business » Autotalk Special

Audi unleashes a new, sassier corporate image

THREE launch ceremonies in a row for one new car and a month-long brand summit at the exclusive Oriental Sports Center in Shanghai. All the glitz and glamour underscored a major shift in marketing strategy for the usually understated, corporate reserve of Germany-based Audi.

The carmaker’s newly A4L is a bit like the new strategy — dynamic, vigorous and imposing. The personality being touted is bigger than ever.

After 28 years of dominance in China’s luxury car market, a legacy of its early association with the nation’s movers and shakers, the German carmaker is eager to reach out to a younger, more sophisticated customer audience to survive what might be called a quater-life crisis.

Before the young generation became the nation’s prime consumer base, Audi was considered a stable, safe choice in the luxury car market in China. Nowadays, young people aren’t interested in revered history. They want modernity and individuality in a car.

It’s been eight years since Audi launched its last generation of A4L. Back then, in its rear-view mirror, there were only the BMW 3 series and the Mercedes-Benz C Class. Neither of the rivals had extended their wheelbases to suit the Chinese preference of interior spaciousness. And Lexus IS, Cadillac ATS, Jaguar XE, Infiniti Q50L and Volvo S60L were nowhere to be seen.

At the launch ceremony for the new A4L, table tennis Olympic champion Ma Long and his coach Liu Guoliang, a legendary player in his own right, were on hand as brand spokesmen. The unspoken wish is that the new model will conquer the cutthroat compact luxury sedan segment just as China rules the world of table tennis.

“No matter how critical you are, you will find more than one bright spot in the car,” said Jing Qingchun, the newly appointed executive vice president of FAW-VW Audi sales division.

His name Qingchun, meaning “youth” in Chinese, is a coincidental plus for the brand, which has made 40 changes, including 10 technological innovations, to its high volume car model to keep up with the times.

Ditching its former moderate and composed look, the new A4L has gone all funky and edgy, adopting sharp waistlines, piercing LED and laser headlamps, and liquid-crystal displays for dashboards — a feature that was once seen in Audi R8 supercar and TT sports cars.

Four new exterior colors have been added to brighten up a palette once dominated by conservative black, gray and silver.

Based on Volkswagen Group’s MLB platform, the car has changed inside and out to become a more engaging vehicle to drive. It lost 65 kilograms, packed in the third generation of a 2.0 TFSI engine and matched it with the newly localized seven-speed double-clutch transmission. The carmaker boasts that it has achieved segment-best aerodynamics, with a drag co-efficient of 0.23, and even included a flappy-paddle gearshift, a feature for sporty cars and a standard spec for all of its variants.

Never before has Audi put so much attention on the driver, to the extent of going head-on against BMW to sell the idea of sheer driving pleasure.

The new image of Audi is actually technology, which was highlighted at its ongoing brand summit with interactive presentations of its LED lighting matrix, autonomous driving, electrification, connected drive experience and even lunar quattro, an experiment of Audi’s four-wheel drive technology on the moon.

Last month, a technology briefing was held at Volkswagen’s newly opened transmission plant in Tianjin, where the new double clutch gearbox for A4L will be manufactured. The deep dive into complicated technological details came to the proud conclusion that its smooth shift promises comfortable driving and high-energy efficiency. A4L promises the lowest carbon dioxide emissions in its segment: 140 grams per kilometer.

Its proactive communications approach shows the brand is shifting from a defensive position to a frontal attack.

“Tomorrow. Now” reads its new brand slogan. As with any technology-driven brand, tomorrow always starts today.


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