Helped by an intensive marketing campaign, the German automaker Audi has shed its image as a supplier of sedans for China’s senior leaders to become the premium domestic car for successful individuals.
Three Audi models stand in a courtyard in Xintiandi, one of Shanghai’s trendiest shopping areas and nightspots. Their hazard lights flash seductively as a troupe of dancers in extra-terrestrial outfits swirls around them. Two of the models – the A-8 and A-6 – are already hot sellers in China. The German carmaker hopes the other, an A-4, will follow suit.
Why choose this location, with its expensive restaurants and pricey home furnishings stores, for the gala event? “Audi is a lifestyle product, and we think this is our customers’ lifestyle,” says Peter Hirschfeld, senior PR and marketing manager of Volkswagen China’s Audi division.
Audi has successfully tapped into a growing class of wealthy consumers in China. Sales have surged over the past three years, from 6,700 older Audi models in 1999 to 27,500 A-6 and A-8 models in the year to mid-December 2001. In 2000, Audi China imported only around 550 cars; in 2001 that surged to 1,400, “almost all of them A-8s”, says Hirschfeld. The turning point for local sales was the January 2000 launch of the domestically produced A-6. China now ranks number one worldwide in sales of the Yn400,000 A-6 sedan, and number four worldwide in sales of the Yn2.1m A-8.
It can’t hurt that China’s president, Jiang Zemin, has an A-8. But Audis are now seen as more than just the preferred ride of the country’s senior leaders. With an aggressive mar keting campaign, Audi is building a new customer base. “Audi’s image in 1999 was ‘Audi is the official car’,” says Hirschfeld. “Now we are a premium car for successful people.”
The shift began in 1998, when Audi decided that China had huge growth potential and made it a strategic market. Until that time, Audi and other foreign automakers tended to introduce older models to the China market. It was selling locally-made A-100 and A-200s, but those models were technically 10-15 years behind models being sold in the West.