Renewed predictions from the boss of Audi Australia that his company will become the country’s top-selling premium brand by 2020 have been met with a “bring it on” by second-placed BMW and ambitions of continued growth from current leader Mercedes-Benz.
Speaking at the launch of the updated A1 and Q3 models in Brisbane this week, Audi Australia managing director Andrew Doyle reiterated the brand’s goal to rise from number three to number one in the premium race “in the next five years or so”.
“We would be hoping to be number one in the market place within that period of time,” Doyle said.
Becoming number one means first overtaking BMW, something that Doyle believes could happen as early as this year.
“We do plan in a volume sense to become number two before we become number one, and we believe we can do that in the next few years.
“We don’t know what BMW’s going to do with their volume [but] the trajectory suggests that that is something that may happen in the not-too-distant future.
“We’re focused also on improving our performance every month and every year, but … we’re doing that in a sustained way. If it happens this year, next year, that’s not our major focus, but we believe it will happen.”
After the first five months of this year, Audi’s sales are up 16.3 per cent to 9128. It’s narrowed the gap marginally to BMW, which has also enjoyed a 13.1 per cent sales boost and currently stands at 9788 sales year-to-date.
Both Audi and BMW recorded their highest-ever monthly sales in May, tallying 1932 and 2380 respectively. BMW’s May total actually gave it a rare win over Mercedes-Benz, which posted 2345 sales for the month (excluding commercial vehicles) though both BMW and Audi remain well behind Mercedes-Benz YTD, with the Stuttgart-based brand currently sitting clear at 12,144.
In fact, Mercedes has enjoyed higher passenger car and SUV growth than both rivals so far in 2015, with sales climbing 19.3 per cent to the end of May.
Doyle acknowledged the impressive recent performance of Mercedes-Benz, but said Merc’s current head start and higher growth rates would not stop Audi from pursuing its goal.
“Of course we have to acknowledge that our friends at Mercedes are also growing very strongly there with some new models and new product, but we believe also with our product line-up … we’ve really got a strong performance coming with our future growth.”
Doyle says the major drivers of Audi’s growth in the coming years will be new-generation versions of the A4 medium car and the Q7 large SUV, as well as the all-new Q1 compact SUV, all of which are due to reach our shores over the next 18 months.
New-generation A5 and R8 models should also arrive next year, while the Q5 and A8 are also due for replacement by 2017. Beyond that, Audi’s Tesla-rivalling electric SUV (potentially dubbed Q6) will launch in 2018, and the full-size coupe-inspired Q8 SUV will land before the end of the decade.
In response to Doyle’s ambitions for the Audi brand, BMW Australia corporate communications general manager Lenore Fletcher welcomed the healthy competition.
“I think it’s excellent stimulation for the industry that people have such high targets and strong ambitions and I think it can only augur well for the industry overall,” Fletcher said.
“We don’t comment on our competitors’ aims or targets, but we are 100 per cent focused on continuing the BMW brand and the phenomenal success that it’s experienced in the past three years.
“Overall BMW is extremely pleased with our performance and [after introducing] almost 60 variants over the three years of 2013, 2014 and 2015 we’ve got a fresh new product range, so bring it on.”
Fletcher said BMW would finish 2015 “with a bang” with the introductions of the new-generation 7 Series limousine and X1 SUV and an updated version of the mid-sized 3 Series in the final quarter of the year. It is also launching updated versions of the 1 Series hatchback and 6 Series grand tourer models next week.
Asked if BMW had its own aspirations of becoming the number one premium automotive brand in Australia, Fletcher admitted it naturally wanted that title but said the company was more focused on meeting other targets.
“I think if you asked every company what their aspirations were overall they would all say they wanted to be number one so I don’t think that’s a relevant question any more, but definitely what we want to be is sustainable and successful, and we are achieving that goal.”
Mercedes-Benz Australia public relations manager Jerry Stamoulis likewise downplayed the importance of the overall number one title, but insisted the company sought to lead every segment it competed in and was “definitely not planning to slow down”.
“I won’t talk about Audi or BMW, but what I will say is it’s nice being number one,” Stamoulis said.
“But our priority is to lead every segment we play in, and also at the same time to have the vehicles that our customers want.
“If we hold the number one place, great, but it’s not our number one priority.”
Along with being the top-selling premium brand in the country, Mercedes also ranks 11th overall, holding a healthy lead over mainstream brands Kia (12,994) and Jeep (11,796).
Remarkably, Mercedes-Benz is also ranked sixth for passenger car sales this year, with its 9924 sales placing it ahead of Ford (8646) and Honda (8165), among many others.
Mercedes currently lags well behind both German rivals in the SUV category (2220 sales for Merc versus 3745 for Audi and 3806 for BMW), though Stamoulis says the brand will strengthen its offering with the launch of the GLE (updated M-Class) and the all-new GLE Coupe in September and the mid-sized GLC in December. The GLC Coupe could join them as early as 2016.
“We’re doing really well with passenger cars, and … with GLC, GLE and GLE Coupe, it will give our customers a range of SUVs to choose from, everything from GLA to G.”
Mercedes expects the Audi Q5-/BMW X3-rivalling GLC to become its most popular SUV, with Stamoulis insisting it will “definitely [bring] new people to the brand”.