New York 2011: Audi Wants Big Growth From Its Big Cars

By the numbers, Audi's smaller models, including the A4 and the Q5 crossover, are its biggest sellers. That's fine and dandy, but the automaker hopes to ultimately shift a larger size of its customer base to its larger C- and D-segment offerings, including the new 2012 A6, 2012 A7, and the 2011 A8.

Johan de Nysschen, president of Audi of America, says the company hopes a quarter of its customer base will be driving its larger products. How does it plan on doing that? Certainly, expanding the powertrain offerings in its A6, A7, and A8 ranges will help. The A8 will once again be offered with a W-12 engine starting next month, but that's simply the tip of the iceberg. A TDI diesel A8 is due in 2012, and diesel engines will also trickle into both the A6 and Q5 the following year.

For those who still prefer gasoline, expect Audi to follow the industry's trend of adopting smaller, forced-induction engines in lieu of large-displacement motors. In America, the A7 is available only with the company's 3.0-liter supercharged V-6, and officials note that same engine will also be offered as an option on the A8 in the near future (do we smell a 740i rivalry brewing?).

Fuel economy is a measurable trait, but Audi's also pushing for its vehicles to connect in a much more subjective manner: emotionally. How? Design is admittedly a key element, and the company's recent C/D segment offerings have eschewed the conservative, forgettable form factor they previously adhered to. Perhaps the best example is the new A7: in person, the steeply raked roofline, sharply chamfered shoulders, and succinct tail do wonders for the car's physique, especially when viewing it from behind. Its interior is equally -- if not more -- sumptuous than that of the larger A8, and the optional yacht-like wood trim (actually made by bonding several layers of wood together, then shaving a thin section away) is positively riveting.

But design isn't Audi's final emotional frontier: expect the company to further push the envelope when it comes to marketing. Scott Keogh, Audi's cheif marketing officer, notes the brand's visibility has grown exponentially since it first started pushing its envelopes, including advertising in the Super Bowl, adopting bold overtures, and incorporating humor into its campaigns. Monthly traffic to Audi's website is up 254 percent, weekly foot traffic into U.S. showrooms has increased 18 percent, and the number of luxury car buyers actually considering an Audi has grown 72 percent. Better yet, it's now the 2nd most cross-shopped luxury brand in the country, trailing only BMW.

Speaking of humor in marketing, de Nysschen revealed this afternoon that Audi would be expanding its sport sponsorship program to support the efforts of Stephen Colbert -- comedian turned TV star turned amateur sailor -- in this year's running of the Charleston Bermuda Race, which fittingly runs from Charleston, South Carolina, and the nation of Bermuda. That said, Audi won't be providing Colbert -- the owner of a previous-generation A8 -- with his first request: an S5 Cabriolet -- "with silk nappa leather" equipped with a mast and sail.

"I wanted something with Quattro all-wheel-drive, since Quattro improves handling on wet surfaces," Colbert quipped. "And I've been told the surface of the ocean is occasionally wet. The results were, well...moist."

Audi's exact level of support is unknown, although de Nysschen did humorously present a four-ring life preserver, reportedly designed in Ingolstadt.

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