Sustainability as a crucial dimension of performance

Sebastian, you’ve been a member of the management team at Audi Sport GmbH since the first of March. Politicians are traditionally asked to provide an initial assessment after 100 days in office. What was this period of time like for you?

Sebastian Grams: I’m a native of Heilbronn in Germany and began my career here at Audi 20 years ago in the field of drive development. I can promise you that there isn’t a child in this region who doesn’t dream of working at Audi Sport. Like everyone on our team, I’m a performance enthusiast and extremely passionate about technology. Our mission is to push the limits of what’s possible – that’s what Audi Sport is all about. And I’m positive that this will continue to be the case in the future.

Speaking of limits, what do you think it takes to break new ground?

Sebastian Grams: Change begins, first and foremost, in the mind. Our goal in the high-performance segment is to redefine the future of personal transportation and make it an even more emotional experience. One thing this will take is courage – the courage to look at things from completely different angles, and in doing so to explore new approaches that will continue to delight our customers in the future. We recently launched the RS e-tron GT – the first all-electric RS and our very first all-electric high-performance model – and thus unveiled a completely new, highly emotional side of the RS family.

And this coming from the mouth of an engineer. Rolf, as someone who works in sales, that must make your heart swell.

Rolf Michl: Indeed, I couldn’t have said it better myself! Our R and RS models play a key role in the brand’s sporty image. With this specific segment, we’re targeting a very demanding, tech-savvy clientele that places the highest demands on performance and design, but also on suitability for everyday use and customizability – this is a segment with significant growth potential for us.

In 2020, we recorded a 16 percent increase in sales despite the coronavirus pandemic – a logical consequence of launching our new models in key sales regions such as Europe, North America, and China, but also in overseas markets such as Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. The appeal of our high-performance vehicles has a positive impact on how the entire brand is perceived. This has been particularly noticeable following the launch of the RS 6 Avant, RS 7 Sportback, and RS Q8, which are posting outstanding sales numbers despite difficult market conditions. Our models have always been and continue to be dream cars – all over the world!

The world you’re talking about is changing at the moment – think electrification and digitization. Is this also having an impact on people’s idea of what constitutes a dream car?

Rolf Michl: It goes without saying that we’re noticing changes and we are intensively analyzing the megatrends and market developments that have an impact on our customers’ reasons for buying and their perception of luxury. The aspect of sustainability adds a crucial element to performance – different from what we’ve seen in the past, but definitely fascinating!

Sebastian previously mentioned the RS e-tron GT: a passionate statement against uniformity. It delivers up to 475 kW (646 PS) of total power and 830 Nm total torque. Its acceleration is incredible and is sure to wow even the most skeptical critics – this is another milestone for us as we enter a new era of all-electric high performance that appeals to both our loyal long-time customers and new customers.

Acceleration is one thing, but many still associate performance with the impressive sound of a large combustion engine.

Rolf Michl: This is exactly where we’re seeing the biggest change. Customers shopping for an all-electric high-performance model are obviously looking for exceptional performance, but they also prioritize sustainability and making an understatement. Quiet is the new loud! The digital e-tron sport sound system uses real-time data on the speed of the electric motors and other parameters to simulate the sound of the drive system in operation in an authentically subtle way. The driver can modify the sound characteristics via customization options in the Audi drive select system. This means you can drive quietly through your neighborhood and really let it rip in typical RS fashion when the situation allows.

A completely new kind of high performance. Sebastian, can you tell us more about Audi Sport GmbH’s electrification strategy?

Sebastian Grams: A clear and systematic electrification strategy is the foundation of our company’s future viability. We began the process of electrifying our Audi Sport models with the combustion engines. The RS 6 Avant, RS 7 Sportback, and RS Q8 combine powerful 4.0-liter V8 biturbo TFSI engines with 48-volt mild hybrid systems and cylinder on demand technology. Future model generations will take the RS range one step further, with high-performance plug-in hybrids and all-electric powertrains.

E-mobility opens up completely new dimensions in driving dynamics – think, for example, of the fully variable power distribution of the electric quattro drive with torque vectoring. Spearheading our push into the age of high-performance e-mobility will be our fully electric models such as the RS e-tron GT.

Rolf, from a sales perspective, can you already provide us with specific details of the next steps in this roadmap?

Rolf Michl: We expect to offer more than half of our high-performance models in partially or fully electrified form as early as 2024. And by 2026, this figure will likely even be as high as 80 percent.We want to offer our customers the right products and services for their specific markets and segments. This ranges from the electrification of a broad spectrum of vehicles via mild-hybrid technology to the flexibility of plug-in hybrids and the unique driving experience of all-electric cars. We still see significant potential in the high-performance SUV segment in many markets. By the end of the decade, we plan to only offer electrified models in the high-performance segment – in other words all-electric vehicles and high-performance plug-in hybrids.

Let’s conclude by returning to the culture of change mentioned at the beginning. Sebastian, where do you believe the greatest opportunity in this transformation lies?

Sebastian Grams: A transformation of this magnitude is not a one-man show. We’re working extremely passionately on this as a team. Change always represents a great opportunity. In this process, we’re motivated to develop new solutions faster than others and to implement them courageously. Here at Audi Sport, our mission is to create the future of mobility in the high-performance segment – a sustainable, progressive and digital future. We know that our customers have high demands and are only satisfied with the best products.