Photos: Ray Ally
One the biggest trends in the auto industry over the last few years has been the introduction of small luxury cars. Audi is the last of the big three German brands to launch it’s own version. It went on sale last month and I saw it at an eye-catching exhibition stand at The Place shopping in Beijng’s CBD.
Mass-market car brands have always made compact cars. Recently this segment has seen increased activity and competition from the luxury brands. All vying to compete for the first time drivers in China, who make up 80% of the market. Mercedes have their A Class and niche Smart Car brand, while BMW has it’s 1 Series and now Audi has the A1.
The Audi A1 follows in the footsteps of the “German sausage” approach to making cars pioneered by BMW. Design a car that can be scaled up or down using the same parts and often similar platforms. So you end up with a series of cars A1, A3, A5, A4, A6, A8, and a design that you can cut to size just like a sausage.
Ten years ago you would have been laughed at for suggesting these brands extend their range and make small cars. Especially as their premium quality and value is defined by their luxury executive class of products. However, times have change and the world is a very different place. Consumers in China and around the world, are more environmentally conscious and want more economic and practical driving solutions.
The small cars like the A1 don’t have all the bells and whistles of it’s bigger brothers. But they do have the build quality, safety and styling of the German brands that consumers in China care about. Consumers get to own a mini version of the car with all the kudos of driving a premium German car brand.
For the car companies they get to have an entry-level price car in China, the world’s number one car market. Hoping to hook young drivers and build a relationship with the brand so they potentially buy up the range as their income and lifestyle improves.
It’s a win-win situation for the consumer and the companies. As long as they keep a consistent level of core brand values and quality across the range, while clearly differentiating the benefits, features and desirability of the higher priced models.
The big black A4 and A6 Audi’s are everywhere in Beijing, as they are always associated with being big business and government cars. Which according to latest Business Week story, is hampering their image amoung wealthy car buyers looking for something less corporate. The Audi A1 is one of the best looking small cars, but time will tell whether it will have a big impact and help Audi project a sexier, younger image to the market in China.