22 November 2012 - 12:00
Audi has big plans for the future
Audi is considering bookending its now-sprawling model range with two extreme cars. One would be blazingly fast, the other staggeringly economical. And in the middle, how about a truly hardcore lightweight version of the TT? Wolfgang Duerheimer, the new head of technical development at the brand, has been telling us about the cars he wants to get into the range.
He gave TopGear.com a lengthy brain-dump of possibilities he's been thinking up since he arrived at Audi three months ago. His brief was to push Audi's cars to the next level, so they can overtake BMW as the world's biggest-selling premium brand.
A meeting next week of the top management will decide the priorities, he says, and some of his ideas will undoubtedly make production. We don't know which yet – but then, how could we? He doesn't know either.
His most dramatic scheme is a high-end supercar, "above the R8". He first had the idea of a hyper-Audi six months ago. "I was at Le Mans in June, where I was just hearing rumours that I would get this job." At the time he was boss of Bentley and Bugatti, but was at the race in his capacity of head of motorsport strategy for the whole VW Group. Before Bentley he'd been head of development at Porsche. In other words, the Panamera and Cayenne were his, and the decision to use aluminium in the 911 was also on his watch… and the beginning of the 918 project.
On with the story: "I saw Audi win Le Mans for the 11th time, using a diesel hybrid quattro. This is absolutely a high-tech solution. On the way home I asked myself how to leverage this to the road. This could be a hot seller in the supersports segment." So that's what he wants for Audi – a diesel hybrid hypercar. He doesn't seem bothered that Porsche is already doing a petrol car in that space, because after all the VW Group (which now includes Porsche) believes in internal competition.
We ask him whether supercar buyers want a diesel, when the 918 has a crazy-revving petrol V8. Duerheimer counters, "That's an argument, but what always sells is performance. If a car is quick, but low in consumption and good-looking it would be quite an offer." Besides, if we extrapolate further from what he says, it's worth noting that to be an exact reflection of the R18 e-tron quattro racer, the new hypercar wouldn't need heavy plug-in batteries like the 918, just a smaller lighter hybrid battery.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the range, he's talking about a proposal to build what the Germans call a 'one-litre car', meaning one that does 1.0 litres of fuel per 100km. That's about 280mpg. Meaning a CO2 figure of about 27g/km. But he says it wouldn't be some tiny cigar-shaped two-seater. "We can use the A1 platform. It would have four seats. It would be practical, safe, no compromise." It would be a plug-in hybrid, he says. (This is a way of getting energy that's not actually counted in the official consumption and emissions figures because electricity is rightly or wrongly considered CO2-free by the authorities.) Although it would use the A1 platform, it would get individual styling. "It would be recognisable in traffic."
Another idea on his to-to list at Audi is a radical lightweight version of the next-generation TT. "It would be less than 1000kg." Could it be quattro at that weight? "That's the challenge. You would have to take out steel and aluminium from the structure and insert carbonfibre." He says the engineers know how to do this on the new MQB platform. "And you would also have to add the weight of a roll cage," he smiles, meaning it would be a car for track days. And would it need a radically downsized lightweight engine? "No, I'm thinking of a five-cylinder."
"This isn't yet an official project," he cautions, "But I will speed it up. It will be emotional, sporty and good-looking. It will be a breath of fresh air for the Audi brand." Cost? "It would be like the GT3 against the 911 Carrera. Pay more, get less. But I don't know exactly how much more."
Audi is undergoing big changes. Duerheimer was appointed because his predecessor, Michael Dick, retired. But at the same time, Audi got a new design director, Wolfgang Egger, and a new sales and marketing chief, Luca de Meo. So the cars, and the way they're sold and branded, will all change direction subtly. Duerheimer's background is in sporting machinery – his career began in BMW's motorcycle racing division, so he's well-placed to work with Audi's new acquisition Ducati. He says Egger will design cars that are more progressive and individual, less of a collection of similar cars in different sizes.
So where else is there room for Audi to make new cars? "SUVs are growing [in sales] worldwide. There's room below the Q3. Room between the Q3, Q5 and Q7." Well we already know Audi is advanced with a Q2. It'll look a bit like the Crosslane Coupe concept. And next year there will be a Q4, a Range Rover Evoque challenger. "And I like the idea of a high-end convertible or coupe," he says, at the mention of the Mercedes SL, "But that idea's still in the clouds."
To be fair he insists on ending with a caution. We won't see all these cars. "We have more ideas than we have engineers or time to do them. So we have to sort out the priorities. The super sports car is what I would like to do. And the one-litre car to define the two ends. But then, I've only been here 93 days. Don't take it all too seriously." But this is a man who's accustomed to getting his way, because his way has a remarkable history of success.