Legend of locally made Audi A6 continues with latest generation
Updated: 2012-11-19 08:07
By Han Tianyang (China Daily)
The model was called the Audi 100 when production first began in China.
The locally produced Audi A6 is a legend in China's auto industry as it continues to reach new milestones more than two decades after it was first introduced to the country.
Localized production of the model began in 1988 in the northern city of Changchun under a technology contract between FAW Group and the German carmaker. At the time the model was called the Audi 100.
The pioneering effort began a new era in the nation's auto industry. It was not only the first Audi, but also the first world-class premium car produced in China.
In 1999 the first long-wheelbase Audi A6 rolled off the venture's production line after more than three years of hard work to improve localization by engineers from both China and Germany.
The unprecedented long-wheelbase executive sedan was an immediate hit due to its exquisite Audi quality and 90 mm extra cabin space catering to local preferences.
Billed as the "trend leader", the car overwhelmingly dominated China's premium car segment in its six-year lifecycle by selling more than 200,000 units.
The success of the Audi A6 also proved to its international counterparts that winning over a market requires more than just advanced products. It also needs true respect from local consumers.
The success story continued in 2005 when a locally produced new-generation of Audi A6 hit the market. The company changed the name to the A6L to highlight its tailor-made features for Chinese consumers, including a 100 mm longer wheelbase than the standard wheelbase version.
The locally produced Audi A6L was also equipped with a range of advanced technologies including petrol direct injection, turbocharged air induction, permanent four-wheel-drive and electromechanical parking brake. Most were the first to be offered on premium cars built in China.
The result was a dominant position in the market - more than 20,000 A6L cars were sold in just six months after the launch, far more than the combined sales of its two archrivals in the segment that year.
By the end of 2011, about 560,000 A6L cars had been sold in China, a record in its segment that remains unmatched.
In January 2011, the standard-wheelbase version of the latest Audi A6 made its global debut at the Detroit Motor Show. Since then curiosity has been high on just how long the local A6 would be.
In recent years, the success of Audi's long-wheelbase sedan inspired its competitors to follow in its path and some brands even blurred the boundary to make mid-sized cars as long as full-sized models.
Audi then surprised many observers with a locally produced long-wheelbase A6L that's still 100 mm longer, the same extra length as in the previous generation.
"Simply longer is not always better," said Yu Qiutao, Audi platform manager at FAW Volkswagen.
"We believe that the additional 100 mm meets the customer demands well enough and if we keep increasing the length, we have to comprise in many other aspects," Yu said, noting that the company weighs the balance of comfort and driving performance.
With that R&D philosophy, the company switched its focus to more areas for improvement rather than an ever-longer wheelbase, making the new A6L reach a new benchmark in localization - the brand new model offers over 10 China exclusive options with modifications done on over 300 parts assemblies.
It also raised the standard for comfort in its segment with better sound insulation, shock absorption, finer interior materials and a more advanced interactive multimedia system.
The all-new Audi A6L has sound-absorbing elements on the rear wheel cover that were before only used on its flagship model A8.
The new MMI multimedia system on the Audi A6 supports Chinese handwriting and touch control. It also integrates a voice controlled navigation system that can recognize the voice of the owner. In addition, the car has two 10.2-inch screens for the rear-seat passengers that can be controlled independently.
Zhang Xiaojun, the former executive vice-president of Audi's sales division at FAW-Volkswagen Audi, said "if our competitors offer the buyers C-Class premium cars with only the size of a D-Class vehicle, what Audi is keen to provide (with the new A6L) is the experience comparable to a D-Class vehicle."
The strategy is proving to be well accepted by the market, with the A6L remaining Audi's bestseller in China. In October alone it sold about 12,000 units.
The strong momentum from the star product and some other models helped Audi's China sales grow by almost a third to more than 330,000 vehicles in the first 10 months of the year, 20,000 more than its full-year delivery in 2011.