Frankfurt 2013: Could Audi's Latest Concept Cars Become Reality?

Audi-Nanuk-Quattro-Concept-front-end

By now, you've seen the Audi Nanuk Quattro concept, a supercar-on-stilts packed with a 544-hp, turbo-diesel V-10. Surely this can't be anything more than a pipe dream, right?

Don't be so certain.

After a brief roundtable discussion with Dr. Ulrich Hackenberg, Audi's newly-instated board member of vehicle development (but hardly a stranger to Audi or the Volkswagen Group), it seems there's actually some rationale behind the Nanuk, a show car that seems about as logical as storing a popsicle in a kiln.

"The Nanuk is a conceptual test to see if there's a small market that exists between a super sports car and an SUV," Hackenberg says. "The Idea comes for corners of the world where people have lots of money, and want a vehicle that's fun to drive in the desert and fun to drive on roads."

In other words, the Middle East. Following the debut of the Italdesign Parcour concept earlier this year at the Geneva Motor Show, ItalDesign - now part of the gigantic Volkswagen Group collective - received strong interest from customers in the Middle East, along with both Russia and China.

"We know there's potentially a market because our colleagues at Italdeisgn have shown this to positive reaction," Hackenberg says. "The reaction yesterday [at Volkswagen's Group Night conference] was great. I wasn't able to leave the car until well past 11 pm. It's emotional and interesting. We will see what happens."

Given the Nanuk's aluminum-intensive space frame construction and dimensions, are both similar to the R8, it's logical talk turns to a structural similarity between the two. "Nanuk uses a mid-engine platform, and all mid-engine coupes in the VW group are super sports cars," says Hackenberg. "We want to try and see if we can increase volume by adapting our existing platforms and build for a different niche of vehicle."

Just how big is that niche? "Maybe 5000 cars worldwide; maybe more?" notes Hackenberg. "I do not know this. We could possibly even sell some in the U.S., since buyers are always looking for something new and crazy." Still, for now, the Nanuk remains a concept, albeit one under serious consideration by Audi brass.

And what about the bright yellow-orange Sport Quattro concept, which finally debuted on the opening day of the Frankfurt motor show? Hackenberg says it's a slightly different situation. Although press materials say the car is built from a modified RS7 platform and mechanicals, Hackenberg describes the Sport Quattro as a "trailer," or preview for the next-generation of Volkswagen's MLB architecture.

"It is an engineering exercise of what can be done, and also a chance for the designers to hone the design language for future products," Hackenberg says.

Hackenberg, who was appointed to his current position roughly ten weeks ago, confirms the idea for the Sport Quattro concept was there before his arrival, but without the plug-in hybrid drivetrain. Why add the PHEV architecture? According to Hackenberg, it's merely a means of showing the "peak technology potential" of the next-generation MLB.

Although we've previously reported a hybrid Sport Quattro could go into production by 2016, Audi representatives tell us not to necessarily be hung up on the hybrid-electric drivetrain. "Take away the driveline for a moment and look at the concept as a whole," one Audi executive told us. "Is there still room for such a vehicle in our portfolio? We'll see what the public's reaction is."

Though we'd love to see Audi develop all sorts of new sports and exotic cars, expect the automaker to focus its short-term growth both on entry-level luxury offerings, along with SUVs. In regards to the former, Audi has already confirmed the A3 and S3 sedan for the U.S. market, along with the plug-in hybrid A3 e-tron Sportback. The A3 Cabriolet, which also debuted at the 2013 Frankfurt Show, is also destined for North America next year. For now, the Sportback will only be an EV, though both Hackenberg and Filip Brabec, Audi's North American director of product management, suggest another driveline - likely a diesel TDI model - could also be a possibility.

"It will be interesting to see how Americans take to the A3 sedan," remarks Hackenberg, reflecting upon the American-spec Passat and Jetta models he helped orchestrate, both of which were bigger than their European-market counterparts. Brabec suggests the A3 is what the original A4 once was, and appeals to a certain sect of first-time luxury buyers that the present A4 - now larger and more expensive than the original - does not.

As for SUVs? Audi's Q3, which has been on sale in other corners of the world since 2011, will finally join the North American portfolio next year. Hackenberg suggested the possibility of both a subcompact Q1/Q2 model, along with larger additions, possibly derived from the next MLB platform. "We see some potential for bigger models that cross the line between coupe and SUVs," he says, reminding us of earlier reports of Q4/6/8 models. "The demand for these models is big, especially in parts of Europe and China."

"There's certainly a possibility, but my main concerns are Q3, Q5, and Q7," Brabec tells us. "After that, then we'll look and see if there's room for any further derivatives."

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