(Bloomberg ) Audi AG (NSU) opened its first interactive digital showroom in Asia in a Beijing shopping mall, as the world's second-largest luxury automaker steps up efforts to soften its image in China as a brand for bureaucrats.
The 2,100-square meter (22,600 square feet) showroom at the Oriental Plaza in the Wangfujing shopping district can display 14 vehicles and features six floor-to-ceiling projection walls that can call up as many as 100 million vehicle combinations through touch-screen tables. Staff are dressed in sweaters and khakis, rather than the usual business suits, to project a younger and more leisurely image.
The showroom is part of measures by the Ingolstadt, Germany-based automaker to broaden its appeal in China beyond that of an official car used by bureaucrats and company executives. Transforming the brand has taken on added urgency as Communist Party chief Xi Jinping pushes to reduce government expenditure and promote the use of cheaper auto brands.
"The team has done a tremendous job in evolving the image of the brand," Luca de Meo, member of the management board at Audi, said yesterday in a tour of the showroom. "You can probably understand the intention to keep going in the direction of positioning Audi as the most progressive brand in the premium automotive market."
To attract more Chinese consumers, Audi has introduced sport-utility vehicles and sports cars like the TT and R8, he said. Private individuals account for nine out of every 10 customers in China today, he said.
Audi sales in China and Hong Kong rose 30 percent last year to a record 405,838 units, the company said last month.
The carmaker also opened its first research and development center outside Germany today in Beijing, with about 300 staff. About 60 percent to 70 percent of the employees are Chinese and the automaker is targeting to increase that proportion in the future, according to Lorenz Fuehrlinger, who heads the center.
"Our designers here they are Chinese and they are young and I think is exactly addressing what you expect,' said Fuehrlinger. ''The younger buyer in China is so important.''
Audi, which is controlled by Volkswagen AG (VOW), supplied an estimated 70 percent of cars used by the government and state- held enterprises during the 1980s, according to an estimate by Guotai Junan Securities.
At the 18th Communist Party Congress held in Beijing in November, the official parking lots for ministerial delegates were filled with black Audi A6 sedans with tinted windows.
Local leaders have responded to Xi's calls to cut down on wasteful expenditure by canceling banquets, police escorts and issued directives for senior cadres to use Chinese auto brands instead of those by Bayerische Motoren Werke AG and Daimler AG.
''If ministers and state-owned company bosses start to switch to Chinese brand cars, it will be a tremendous push to local automakers and a major blow to Audi,'' said Chi Yifeng, head of the Beijing Asian Games Village Automobile Exchange, a vehicle dealer in the capital. ''Unlike BMW and Mercedes, Audi doesn't have as strong the individual consumer base and they have been working on changing that.''