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Audi chief has big plans for the future

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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.

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