Audi Innovation Research Beijing


Audi Innovation Research (AIR) provides an insight into the fascinating country of China. In Beijing, the team lives with the city’s hectic tempo, which is much faster than in Europe. AIR Beijing analyzes trends, observes the growing high-tech scene and cooperates closely with a network of innovative lateral thinkers. Mission: decoding the lifestyle of the future.

_Hi. We are AIR Beijing.

A Chinese proverb says, “The future casts its shadow before us.” This sentence is the essence of the work in Beijing: AIR is seeking the key factors that contain the code for our future. With a mixture of market research, market intelligence and trend research, the team is diving deep into the Chinese market.

Wang: “My name is Wang Zhou, I am 21 years old. I spend about 14 hours online each day, usually playing role games in which I can create my own character. At my university, we actually have our own team; I can play really professionally there.”  
Scott: “What fascinates you so much about a virtual world that you prefer it to reality?”
Wang: “I know that this world isn’t real. But it’s so much more exciting than my everyday life. And besides that, I can be my real self online. I am accepted and have my group of friends.”


Scott is a trend researcher at the Audi Innovation Research office in Beijing. He is satisfied: The interview with Wang has gone well. He has learnt something new, this time about the way of life of young Chinese people born after 1990: a world that is so different from that of the elder generation.

Scott Zhao, senior trend analyst

“I have been responsible for all trend and innovation topics at AIR in Beijing since 2013. Through my work, I am getting to know my own country in a totally different way; it’s as if I were looking at my roots under the microscope. And I am also finding out a lot about a future we all share.”

Dr. Zijian Pu, senior research analyst  

I was born in China, but moved to Germany at the age of four. After studying economics and mechanical engineering, I gained a doctorate in collaboration with Audi. Joining the Four Rings in 2014 then brought me back to Beijing: to do market research at Audi Innovation Research.

“In China, young people are experiencing the ‘new China’ with its rapid economic growth, prosperity and the will to be pioneers. They are open, have a Western orientation and are self-confident,” explains Zijian, a senior research analyst at AIR.


As she is Chinese herself, she has a good feeling for the changes occurring in her home country. And the time she spent in Germany helps her to assess the potential of new trends with relevance also beyond China, for the international market. Projects that are entirely devoted to Chinese culture are not unusual for AIR employees. In Beijing, everything is about the customers of tomorrow. The country has been in the spotlight since Audi discovered the Chinese market in 1988. As it is now Audi’s biggest single market, it receives special attention.


“China is a country of extremes: incredible fast, especially with new technologies. On the other hand, things can also move very slowly, in matters of bureaucracy for example. Life in Beijing takes place between these two worlds – that’s challenging, but also very exciting,” says Dr. Christian Balzer, Head of the AIR office. In early 2017, he left the Audi headquarters to dive into the world of Audi Innovation Research in China. As a graduate in psychology and business management, he adds another facet to Audi Innovation Research: “There is a broad range of expertise in our team. We have engineers, trend and market researchers, and data specialists. So we bring specialists together from many different areas. Another factor is that our team has a lot of Chinese members. While I contribute the German perspective, I can rely on my colleagues’ pronounced sensibility for the Chinese market. This heterogeneity makes us strong.” 

Dr. Christian Balzer, AIR Beijing 

Christian is interested in everything new in the world. And in people who put new things into the world. This interest already took him all over the world in his private life. On his travels, he had interesting experiences in very differing countries and got to know various cultures. And this openness has helped him in his working life as well. His intercultural competence was often a great advantage in the human resources department of the Audi retail organization, and meant that he worked abroad quite a lot. With his many years of experience in personnel management and his methodology knowledge from his time at university, he was looking for a new challenge in 2016 – and found it at Audi Innovation Research in Beijing. 

 _Our job? Inquiring. Listening. Giving answers.

Based in the 798 Art District of Beijing, the team works in a unique atmosphere. Everything comes together here: The results of market and trend research merge to form a picture, and provide a basis for possible future scenarios. AIR’s work offers good grounds for discussion. That is one of the aims, and is specifically encouraged. A network of idea providers and sparring partners is in close contact with the AIR team. Together, they discuss the ideas, work on projects and develop new concepts. Food for thought is also provided by the so-called trend receivers: people with a “seventh sense for trends.” Maria greatly appreciates this exchange of ideas and opinions: “We work with people who are familiar with the Chinese culture and also have a strong awareness of current developments. These insights are extremely important for our work. They give us a high-quality understanding of certain changes. That’s better than any statistics.”

_The AIR office: Sounds promising. And it is.

Sound expertise and the ability to change perspectives quickly are essential for trend research – because it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. China is developing at an incredible speed. The country has triggered a fundamental change and is leaving the old clichés behind: Copying was yesterday; the cliché of the so-called “workbench to the world” is passé. On the contrary: China is becoming a driver of innovation. Meanwhile, about a third of all patent applications now come from China. In Beijing, well known as the country’s media and high-tech hub, one feels the fast pace and the contrast of tradition and progress.

“In Beijing, one is aware of the thirst for progress every day”, says Christian. “Take digitization for example: everyone in this metropolis is digital: Whether young, old, rich or poor; the smartphone is the key to everyday life. The speed of development of new applications is extremely high, just like the willingness to risk trying out a new idea. For us, the market offers enormous potential, as well as the possibility to learn a lot.” 


The AIR office in Beijing is just an e-mail away. And if you would like to have a look at the think tank for yourself, you should go for a walk through the Art District and have a coffee there. And don’t forget to take a souvenir picture!