Audi Innovation Research San Francisco

What do the .mp3 file format, iPhone, Netflix, Amazon, Airbnb and Uber all have in common? They’re all the drivers of disruptive innovation that upended an industry and sent the respective incumbents into crisis mode, or early retirement.

Now when we look at today’s marketplace, the success of companies like Netflix, Airbnb and Uber is proof that virtually every industry is susceptible to, or currently in the midst of, a large scale digital disruption.

The auto industry is no different, and this means there is an ever-growing need to better understand and integrate emerging technologies and innovative business models that will meet customers’ future needs. This is where AIR SF comes into play.

Located at the Epicenter of Innovation  

With San Francisco being an incubator for budding entrepreneurs, emerging digital technologies and disruptive innovation, it’s no coincidence that we chose to establish an AIR office here.

There’s a contagious creative spirit and unique approach to work and life within the Bay Area that we wanted to tap into and bring to Audi.

The AIR San Francisco office was founded back in 2012 as part of Audi’s commitment to understanding the US market, and to playing a leading role in shaping the future of mobility. In addition to the more traditional trend scouting responsibilities, the AIR SF office is focused on bringing together the needs of the customer with the possibilities of technology and requirements for business success.


Who we are. What we do.  

Representing AIR in the Bay Area is a diverse team of innovation specialists with backgrounds ranging from marketing and brand strategy to strategic foresight and sales and to automotive and furniture design.

Markus Auerbach,
Head of AIR SF

With a strong knowledge of mechanical engineering and design, I started my Audi career in the Technical Development division by gaining a deep understanding of the heart of the company: “Vorsprung durch Technik.” Nowadays, “Vorsprung” is driven by more than pure mechanics.

At AIR, I seek to find out about the drivers that have the potential to change the status quo.

Silicon Valley is a great place to catch the latest innovations and team up with creative minds to think about new business ideas. For our work at AIR, we need two different kinds of people: fast movers and thinkers. It’s my job to bridge those two worlds, to make them combine their brainpower and get them to share the same vision. And whenever needed, I provide a spark to help steer them in the right direction. Then I step out to do the dishes while they perform miracles together.

Evan Brown,
Innovation Strategist  

My experience reflects a demonstrated knowledge of overlapping disciplines: marketing, design strategy and finance – and I feel just as comfortable in a room of development engineers as I do with designers or financial controllers. As an innovation strategist with AIR SF, I am able to look at the world from multiple perspectives and take a “people first” approach to imagining creative solutions that address the future challenges of mobility.

I’m inspired by the possibilities of being an advocate for the customer while building new, innovative products and services through strategic design.

Quote: “Be a rebel with a cause...because at times that’s exactly what it takes” – a previous boss of mine to me.

Jürgen Kufner,
Senior Innovation Strategist

With industrial engineering as my educational background, the interface between technology and the business world has always fascinated me. In these worlds, focusing on the customers’ needs and wishes is the most important. That’s why during my daily work at AIR, I take a customer-centric approach to new service and business model development. Steve Jobs once said, "Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” During my time in the Bay Area, I’ve come to realize what he meant by that.

You can only be successful if you search for innovation and more importantly have the courage to implement it. 

Mira Dechant,
Trend Research and Communication

When I was working in journalism, I learnt to jump right into the middle of what’s happening and to search for the triggers that define why and how people act the way they do. At AIR, it’s kind of the same principle for me – just translated into a different setting:

We seek the key drivers of today just to find out about tomorrow: The desires, skills and challenges humans are facing.

In this way, we listen closely to what the future is already willing to tell us. And start to write our own story – about future mobility and how Audi is driving the digital age.

My favorite quote: “Everything you can imagine is real.” (Pablo Picasso) 

We operate at the intersection of technology, design and mobility, and are focused on exploring topics like the connected universe, big data, digitization and AI in order to identify the changing needs of future consumers and new market opportunities. And because the work we do can add value not only to the global AIR network, but to a wide range of other parties within Audi, we describe our approach as falling into three different spaces: Inquire, Inspire and Ignite.

A plan is only as good as the information that’s driving it, and that’s why our general curiosity and passion for understanding the world around us is so important to what we do.

For us, research isn’t just about sitting at a desk going through reports. It’s about getting out in the mix. Engaging Bay Area start-ups, experts and customers in a continuous creative dialogue, and immersing ourselves in the same environment that’s reshaping the automotive landscape.

We’re constantly monitoring all that’s happening in the world around us in order to recognize changing customer preferences, emerging trends, customer pain points, market opportunities – essentially anything that can help us deliver intelligent insights and actionable strategies. This might take shape as a comprehensive research study that provides a glimpse into the future of retail, or as a report that details the changing dynamic between Americans and their pets.

As they say, great ideas can come from anywhere, and while the majority if our work is focused on specific projects, that doesn’t prevent us from exploring beyond. Conferences like CES, festivals like SXSW, and meet-ups at The Battery expose us to a wealth of inspiration. And because this experience is truly unique to the US, it’s our job to capture and share this inside Audi – in the context of specific projects as well as in a more casual atmosphere, like at the SHAIRE conference. At that meeting, AIR provides an insight into the latest projects and results.

When it comes to innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration is critical. Different departments and disciplines coming together and focusing their collective expertise on a common goal is how magic happens!

In this instance, our role is to show others future possibilities and to move from paper to prototype. This may reflect joint collaboration with Audi AG and the ERL to prototype a concept idea, or hosting a three-day hack-a-thon with Bay Area innovators centered on Orchestration.

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