Vorsprung is in the AIR

Audi Innovation Research (AIR) is an interdisciplinary think tank based in Ingolstadt, San Francisco and Beijing. The three teams are part of the worldwide innovation network of AUDI AG.


Their mission: the next big thing.

What does “Vorsprung” mean? Being the first? The fastest, the best? Literally speaking, “Vorsprung” means being one step ahead. The scope that this creates provides additional freedom, additional spontaneity and opportunities for individuality. So “Vorsprung” means finding answers before the questions are asked. Living up to this ambition means knowing and understanding what is important in people’s lives – and how that is changing.

Audi Innovation Research (AIR) analyzes trends and innovations that have the potential to revolutionize our future. Spread over three continents, the teams perform research into the drivers of social change and inquire about the implications for the Audi brand. In addition to typical market and trend research, AIR also seeks solutions and develops early prototypes.

“SHAIRING” is caring: providing stimulus and sharing knowledge 

The findings from AIR’s work are fuel for the high-performance engines of the Four Rings: They provide stimulus for brand strategy and answer research questions from various Audi departments. They allow insights into key strategic markets and give indications of undiscovered business potential. At the same time, they pass on open questions or customers’ wishes to the headquarters. This knowledge exchange is enriching – especially as a live experience: The AIR teams share their latest results at SHAIRE, an event for Audi employees. This is a perfect meeting place for discussions – and perhaps also for a bit of fun.

An open attitude, regular exchanges of opinions and experience, and teamwork are the basic principles of AIR’s work. Meanwhile, a global network of creative people has been established, which together with AIR is working on visionary concepts, testing prototypes or simply sounding out new ideas. As trend receivers, they inspire the work of AIR and launch innovations.  

From the Bay to Beijing: AIR is globally connected 

AIR serves the company as a seismograph. With offices in Europe, China and the United States, the teams are working at the heart of global innovation, whereby each office has its own role. In Beijing, the focus is on customers’ living environment. Audi has been at that location for more than 25 years. During this time, the country has changed enormously – and the customers’ needs as well. Today, China is a trendsetter and sets the pace in many areas. The main focus in the USA is on innovation scouting and partnering. Silicon Valley is a power plant for new ideas and a magnet for visionary startup founders. AIR’s heart beats in Ingolstadt. In addition to its own market and trend research, the office there coordinates AIR’s activities. Proximity to the headquarters ensures fast communication and rapid decision making. Inquiries can be answered quickly and results can be distributed rapidly.

The teams talk about their experience  

Boris, Christian and Markus coordinate the AIR offices in Ingolstadt, Beijing and San Francisco: three cities that serve as vantage points for a view of the world’s biggest automobile markets. How the three Audi employees experience their work at those locations is just as varied as the countries they are occupied with.

Boris Meiners,
AIR Global

The best thing about AIR? Before the next meeting or phone call, one never knows which new ideas, gadgets, cooperative ventures or prototypes the colleagues will turn up with. That’s simply exciting – and an indication of how our company’s development is progressing. Audi Innovation Research stands symbolically for an international mindset and a consistent focus on the customer. In the past, strategic considerations mainly concentrated on our domestic market or Europe. What pleased the customers here was delivered worldwide. That doesn’t work any more; requirements are too diverse. And times change faster in China and the United States than we are used to in good old Europe. With AIR, we combine the best of all worlds. And one thing is certain: We can learn a lot from each other.

Dr. Christian Balzer,
AIR Beijing 

I always say that China is a country of extremes. It’s really impressive how a keen awareness of traditions is combined with uninhibited modernity. Beijing is the pioneer in many respects. This is where trends are started and immediately tried out in the marketplace. The Chinese are very ambitious, especially with regard to new business models and digital services. One of the key drivers is the openness of Chinese customers: They are very curious and technology oriented. New products are accepted extremely fast and spread like wildfire. In the coming years, this innovation potential will be increasingly prevalent also on a global scale. Ideas will be born in China and will then be accepted all over the world. 

Markus Auerbach,
AIR San Francisco

Silicon Valley is synonymous with digitization and disruption. Geographically, it is the delta between Santa Clara Valley, the southern half of the San Francisco peninsula and the southern part of East Bay. It became famous with the meteoric rise of its startup scene and the success of its digital business models. The Valley is an innovation machine – and has created a lot of billionaires. The American dream has been fulfilled here for many garage tinkers. The big players such as Google and Facebook are firmly established. Meanwhile, the newcomers are shifting to Oakland. The focus is less on new technologies and more on innovative business ideas, and the startup landscape is changing extremely fast, according to the motto of “Go big or go home.”

Want to find out more?

The work of Audi Innovation Research is presented on the following pages. The stories provide an insight into the work of the three teams and give an impression of which trends and innovations have the potential to shape our living environment in the future.

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