July 1 (Bloomberg) -- Audi AG is taking aim at Ferrari SpA with a convertible version of the R8 GT supercar, as the Volkswagen AG unit hones a high-end sporty image in its quest to overtake Bayerische Motoren Werke AG as the luxury-car leader.
The R8 GT Spyder, Audi’s most expensive series production car, boasts carbon-fiber in the front and rear spoilers to reduce weight and help the car accelerate to 100 kilometers (62 miles) per hour in 3.8 seconds. Priced from 207,800 euros ($301,300), the model costs more than Ferrari’s California and the Mercedes-Benz SLS roadster, underscoring Audi’s ambitions.
“Audi is pursuing its campaign for the top luxury slot with heart and soul,” said Wolfgang Meinig, head of the Bamberg, Germany-based FAW Research Center for the Automobile Industry. “They have steadily enhanced their product portfolio and are engaged in refining the top end of the range.”
The open-top version of the R8 GT is part of Chief Executive Officer Rupert Stadler’s strategy to topple BMW by 2015. Because of the higher margins of luxury cars, Audi is critical to parent Volkswagen AG’s efforts to surpass Toyota Motor Corp. in sales and profit by 2018. Audi accounted for 47 percent of VW’s profit last year, while selling 18 percent of the group’s vehicles.
Stadler will today complete a two-day presentation to Audi’s top management, where he lays out a plan to capture the lead by further expanding the model lineup, two people familiar with the matter said. The Ingolstadt, Germany-based manufacturer intends to increase its product range to about 60 models by 2020 from 37 now, the people said, speaking on condition that they not be identified because the talks are private.
Under consideration is the A9, a two-door coupe based on the A8 flagship, one of the people said. The model would compete with Mercedes’s $113,150 CL and mark a further expansion of high-end offerings, which typically have better profit margins. Last year, the manufacturer introduced the A7 Sportback and updated the A8 to compete with Mercedes’s S-Class and BMW’s 7- Series. Audi’s lineup starts with the 15,800-euro A1 subcompact.
Audi needs to regain ground, with BMW widening its lead this year. Boosted by the revamped X3 sport-utility vehicle and 5-Series sedan and wagon, the BMW brand sold 20,000 more cars than Audi in the first five months, compared with a gap of 10,500 a year earlier.
Backed by the expanded model lineup, Audi will target sales of 2 million vehicles a year by 2020, up from a goal of 1.2 million this year and 1.5 million in 2015, the people said. The target would match BMW’s aim of selling at least 2 million cars by 2020. Esther Bahne, a spokeswoman for Audi, declined to comment on the carmaker’s future model policy.
Competitors aren’t sitting idly by. Stuttgart-based Mercedes is building a factory in Hungary to support the rollout of four compact models, which will challenge Audi’s A3 for younger drivers. BMW, based in Munich, is developing a new line of front-wheel drive models and is rolling out the “i” electric-car sub-brand.
Audi will limit production of the R8 GT Spyder, which is largely assembled by hand, to 333 cars, Joachim Radde, head of sports cars at Audi’s high-performance Quattro division, said in an interview. The car, which is hitting the market less than a year after the coupe, will be available to order starting in August. The line will likely sell out by year’s end, Radde said.
“The R8 GT Spyder will be a boon to both image and margins,” Radde said by phone from Audi’s headquarters. “There’s demand for such top-of-the-range vehicles, and we’re paying heed to that.”
Audi, which has sold all 333 of the coupe version, will begin deliveries of the soft-top Spyder in December. The car’s 10-cylinder engine powers it to a top speed of 317 kilometers per hour. The starting price is 16 percent more than the 179,400-euro Ferrari California and 6.5 percent more than the 195,200-euro Mercedes SLS roadster.
“The introduction of such extravagant models help Audi raise selling prices,” said Stefan Bratzel, director of the Center of Automotive Management at the University of Applied Sciences in Bergisch-Gladbach, Germany. “The image-enhancing effects are huge.”
The new Audi hits the market at the same time as the Mercedes SLS roadster, which could be ordered from June 1. The soft-top version of the gull-wing supercar is also largely hand made. Its eight-cylinder, 571-horsepower engine takes about three hours to assemble, spokesman Pietro Zollino said.
Mercedes relies on reinforced aluminum to reduce the car’s weight and help the roadster nearly match the performance of the gull-wing version, which accelerates to 60 miles per hour in 3.7 seconds and has a top speed of 197 miles per hour, Zollino said.
BMW is following a different supercar strategy and will introduce the i8, which combines electric motors and a combustion engine, after rolling out a battery-powered city car in 2013. The hybrid supercar will have its entire frame woven from light-weight carbon fiber. It doesn’t have a direct competitor to the R8 GT.
“Audi is progressing rapidly in its endeavor to close the gap on BMW,” said Bratzel. “The R8 GT Spyder is rounding off a product range that’s very comprehensive already.”
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