At home in the markets

consistently customer: Educated, highly qualified and fueled by an irrepressible desire for individual mobility: China’s high-income middle class is growing and thriving – and with it the premium car market. Audi aims to benefit from this trend. The key to success: learning from the customer.

03/19/2020 Copy: Franziska Hartung – Photos: Dirk Bruniecki, Julian Baumann – Rendering: Vinzent Britz Talking Business Reading Time: 4 min

Talking Business – Key Facts

  • With 690,083 vehicles sold in 2019, China remains the most important market for Audi.
  • Audi wants to reposition itself in the Chinese premium market and is focusing on qualitative growth in the process.
  • Consistent customer focus in China secures premium margins and reduces complexity and costs in the long term.

Audi Design - China - Intercultural teams
Stephan Fahr-Becker, Head of Design at Audi China, and Yunzhou Wu, design project manager at the Audi subsidiary in China.

In just five years, this group will number around 500 million people. An affluent group of customers that is about as large as the European Union. Enormous potential for Audi. Indeed, the company already delivers one in three cars to a Chinese customer. Audi also continues to count on ongoing growth in China, its most important sales market. How will this be achieved? With a clear focus on the Chinese customer, on electric mobility and unmistakable design.

The Chinese market is a pioneer for electric mobility. Experts predict that in only five years’ time, the share of electric cars will exceed 25 percent. While politicians and the media in Germany are still discussing the end of the combustion engine, China is establishing hard facts. Volkswagen and Audi are reacting decisively throughout the Group: The future is electric. For Audi, electric mobility is an opportunity to reposition itself on the premium market in China. That is why the company wants to launch nine electric models by the end of 2021, thus responding consistently to change in the market. The launch of the Audi e-tron and Audi Q2L e-tron – tailored specifically to the Chinese market – symbolizes the kick-off to this electric initiative. Audi has defined clear priorities for this course in China.

Hildegard Wortmann
Hildegard Wortmann, Member of the Board of Management of AUDI AG for Marketing and Sales.
We want to grow continuously, but not at any cost. Qualitative growth and high profitability are more important than volume.

Hildegard Wortmann, Member of the Board of Management of AUDI AG for Marketing and Sales

Developing in China for China. That is how Audi is going to focus on satisfying the market-specific wishes of its customers and in the long run transform even further into a customer-centric company. It is also important that customer requirements are reported from the market back to headquarters. Mobile services and digital devices are proof that  China has become an impulse generator and trend radar. What’s “in” here today will be sought after by the whole world tomorrow.

Premium in Chinese

Electric mobility has to be fun for the customer. It should not be a sacrifice – on the contrary: Most Chinese are looking for automotive exclusivity. And in China, this has a name: daqi. It implies an attitude that opposes any form of excess or overstatement and instead favors a more refined and differentiated approach. It reflects the premium standards that the Chinese expect from future electric cars: maximum comfort, customized features and an expressive design language. This poses a design challenge that can only be tackled as a team: Every day, designer Yunzhou Wu and his colleagues translate ideas from the market into concrete product requirements and design sketches.

Audi Design in China – Younzhou Wu – Nisha Pillai

Yunzhou Wu and Nisha Pillai, Color and Trim expert at Audi China

“We focus on what the customer in China wants,” says Wu. “Good design emerges through dialogue, not from just one creative moment. The mix of different experiences has a positive influence on designs and makes them truly special,” says Wu, firmly convinced. The designers in Beijing are supported by the local sales team and the Audi Innovation Research Team (AIR), which is headed by Dr. Christian Balzer. Every day, the AIR team identifies and assesses industry-relevant trends in China. Trend analysts, data specialists and design researchers all work together here – most of them local talents who understand the customer best.

They were also the ones who started the Audi Innovators Circle, a community that thrives on direct contact with the target group. More than 1,000 Chinese consumers participate several times a month, offering feedback on product developments and digital offers from Audi. It only takes a few minutes and is all done digitally via the WeChat app – as is the norm in China. “We have to give our customers a stronger voice. They are our most important asset and point us in the right direction,” says Balzer.

DNA of a brand

A study conducted by the AIR team found that Chinese customers expect a stronger visual distinction between combustion engine models and the new electric vehicles. Over the years, Audi has created a strong brand face. The radiator grille, the way the rings are presented and the innovative lighting technology are particularly distinctive features of this. “We have to develop this DNA further,” says Wu, “and make electrification visible and tangible for the customer.” Audi therefore relies on style-defining details that combine technology and beauty in a sustainable way. A prime example is the brand’s light signature. The digital Matrix LED headlights, which are available as an option for the first time in the Audi e-tron Sportback, not only enhance the appearance of the electric family, but also impress customers with new functions that make driving easier and more secure.

Digital Audi Matrix LED headlights: one million pixels dancing in step
Digital Audi Matrix LED headlights: one million pixels dancing in step

E-Mobility 11/21/2019

Digital Audi Matrix LED headlights: one million pixels dancing in step

The world premiere of the Audi e-tron Sportback in 2019 was also the debut of the digital Matrix LED headlights. They help the driver and communicate with others on the road.

Read more

Power consumption, combined*: 23.8–20.9 kWh/100km (NEDC); 25.8–21.1 kWh/100km (WLTP)CO₂ emissions, combined*: 0 g/km

Power consumption, combined*: 23.8–20.9 kWh/100km (NEDC); 25.8–21.1 kWh/100km (WLTP)CO₂ emissions, combined*: 0 g/km

“It’s our job as designers to understand and interpret the rapid change in our customers’ preferences and to transfer those insights into strong products.”

Yunzhou Wu, designer

At Audi, design always expresses “Vorsprung durch Technik.” It enables the customer to identify emotionally with the car and the brand and is therefore the number one reason to buy – in China and Germany alike. “It’s our job as designers to understand and interpret the rapid change in our customers’ preferences and to transfer those insights into strong products,” says Wu. After spending more than seven years designing cars at Audi in Germany, Wu has been back in his homeland of China for nearly two years and is convinced: “There’s a lot to learn from the Chinese market that we can apply to other markets. That’s why we need to exchange ideas regularly, rethink our processes and bring innovations to the market more quickly.”

German-Chinese collaboration has become an integral part of the international Audi design team’s work. It is an important step toward the consistent implementation of Chinese customer requirements in the early phase of product development. In a broader context, it contributes to a globally successful product.

Yunzhou Wu with VR headset
Digitalization meets craftsmanship: Virtual reality headsets enable the Audi designers in Beijing and Ingolstadt to hold meetings across continents. This collaboration is an important step for the consistent implementation of Chinese customer requirements in the product development process.
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