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Driven by technology

Benjamin Cher
Benjamin Cher • 8 min read
Driven by technology
SINGAPORE (Nov 19): A short tunnel opened up to every Audi lover’s dream — a cavernous hall packed with Audi models of every make and design. Not only were the current models on display, there were futuristic ones too, from Audi concept car Aicon to t
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SINGAPORE (Nov 19): A short tunnel opened up to every Audi lover’s dream — a cavernous hall packed with Audi models of every make and design. Not only were the current models on display, there were futuristic ones too, from Audi concept car Aicon to the newest e-tron and Q8. The Audi Brand Experience, which was held last month at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre, had activities for car lovers young and old.

“It’s a bit of an outing. You can bring your kids to ride on the little Audis here, there’s enough space to look at cars, it’s a comfortable environment and you’ll see things you normally don’t see,” said Rudi Venter, general manager of marketing at Audi Singapore, during the event.

The biggest challenge with the showcase was finding a gap in schedules to bring in concept cars such as Aicon. “That took a little bit of coordination, but we had good support from our colleagues in Germany and they really pulled out all the stops to [make it happen],” says Venter.

The event enabled Audi to do more than just create mass awareness of the brand. “It’s not like putting an advertisement out there; you can come, physically touch, test drive and experience the brand on many levels,” he says. Venter certainly understands cars as he turned his own interest into a profession. He started out as an automotive journalist in South Africa 20 years ago, before joining the German marque in 2003.

Venter says the success of the Audi Brand Experience will determine if more of such events will be held here again.

“I think we’re going to see the success of the event and judge. We would like to bring it back again, if not as an annual event [then as] a bi-annual event, but for sure we would like to try it again,” he says.

Visitors at the Audi Brand Experience got a glimpse of how technology is at the forefront of the company’s efforts. This was evident in the models featured at the event, such as the Aicon as well as the e-tron Vision from the racing game Gran Turismo. This emphasis on technology is also reflected by the latest Audi models, according to Venter.

“If you look at the A8, this is the first car in which level-three autonomous driving (where drivers can turn their eyes away from the road) is technically possible. The only thing holding it back is infrastructure or legal reasons,” he says.

Venter says Audi will review the success of the event and may bring it back.

Staying true to its motto
Bringing these technology concepts to life is part of Audi’s DNA, true to its slogan “Vorsprung durch Technik”, or “progress through technology”. This does not merely mean adding new bells and whistles to the latest models, however.

“It is technology that we think will add to the experience of the car owners, make their lives easier and make the car a part of their connected lives,” Venter explains.

This is reflected in the e-tron, the new, all-electric sport utility vehicle from Audi, he adds. E-tron owners can try out functions on demand such as matrix headlights, which are already preloaded into the car. They can choose to rent the feature for a day, and activate it permanently if they like it.

“That’s a small example of Vorsprung and how we bring it to market,” says Venter.

With the e-tron, Audi has made an electric car its way. It is first and foremost an Audi, says Venter. This means extra care was taken to ensure that drivers would not be able to distinguish it from other Audi cars, with its features, practicality and driving experience mirroring that of Audi’s petrol-fuelled vehicles.

“[It] takes a lot of learning from other companies in terms of electric vehicles, [as well as] the history and heritage that Audi has of over 100 years, [all] compiled into this car,” he adds.

Learning from previous models is what Audi does as well. Venter says the latest Q8 model is an example. It has responded to customer feedback on the Q7 for more luggage space and room. “What’s nice about Audi’s range of products is that we really have everything. From a small A1 to a sporty R8, there’s a size that will fit you,” says Venter.

Making an appearance at the show were concept cars such as the Aicon.

Shifting into drive
Audi is not only learning from other companies, it is also transferring its race track advances to its road cars. While some might wonder how getting a faster lap time can help in the development of a car, the race track actually serves as a technology test bed for the brand.

“It actually goes back many decades, from the 1980s Audi Quattro rally car, which was invented for rallying, and then [had its technology] put into the production cars that we use to this day. If we look at Audi’s sports cars today, it is also about lightweight construction and aerodynamic capabilities,” says Venter.

From Formula E, the all-electric version of Formula 1, to Le Mans, the 24-hour race held in Le Mans, France to the German Touring Car Masters, which races mass-produced cars, Audi has been able to test concepts on the track. When proven, these concepts are then translated into models customers can buy, resulting in high-performance cars.

“The great thing about an RS model is that it can wear many hats. In other words, you can drive it every day as a comfortable car, but if you happen to find yourself on a race track, you can put it into dynamic mode and the car will perform like a proper sports car,” he enthuses.

While these advancements might be great for existing drivers, driving is becoming less popular with the younger generation. This is not great news for a carmaker, but Venter observes that Singapore has a vibrant car culture. While the younger generation might not like owning a car, they do like the idea of driving one.

“We’ve tested this idea of user pay market with Audi on demand, where you can use an Audi for a minimum of four hours or for as long as 28 days. It gives you flexibility — if you want a car, you can do so with Audi on demand,” says Venter.

Such ideas are what will help Audi retain mindshare among drivers. “I think it is about trying to come up with clever products and services to keep people interested in your brand and what you can offer,” he adds.

The Audi Quattro rally car was invented for rallying and then had its technology put into production cars that we use to this day.

Superior customer service
Customer service is an integral part of the Audi experience, from the time a customer considers an Audi all the way to after they purchase one.

“At the end of the day, at the level of products we compete with, everyone makes a pretty good car. What differentiates us more than the product itself is the customer service that comes with it,” explains Venter.

As such, customer service has to be top-notch, and technology such as virtual reality headsets and electronic car customisers are key to the experience.

Likening it to one’s daily interaction with technology, such as the mobile phone, Venter believes there is no reason why customers cannot have the same experience when buying, renting or browsing for cars.

“The car industry has, in general, been a little bit slow in this transition. The way of buying a car has been the same for, like, forever — you see an ad, go to the dealer, test drive and, if you like the car, buy it. [This] will change dramatically in a couple of years. What is important now is to identify how consumers want to purchase cars, and how they want to experience and enjoy the car,” he adds.

This goes beyond just introducing new car models or product refreshes, as there are limitations to both. Cars have a certain life cycle and it is impossible to keep introducing new models.

“That is one of the most difficult challenges — you have your product, but your competitors are also active and there is something new almost every month. It has to be more than the product, you have to keep the experience with the customer fresh and interesting all the time to make sure they have some loyalty to the brand,” says Venter.

As the carmaker caps another record year for the business, it looks set to continue leveraging on technology to build the Audi experience for years to come.

This article appeared in Issue 857 (Nov 19) of The Edge Singapore.

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