Back in the early ’80s, Audi was little more than just a posh Volkswagen, the quirky premium brand that customers who wanted something different bought. At the time, both BMW and Mercedes-Benz dominated Audi in every premium automotive segment. Today, though, the four-ringed brand is a major player and one of the largest premium automakers on Earth. So how did it get here?
The most famous answer is the Audi Quattro. When the original “Ur” Quattro first debuted, it dominated rally stages and shocked the world with its incredible all-wheel drive system. However, that really only resonated with performance-minded enthusiasts. How did Audi become mainstream?
As it turns out, the answer is clever branding. Audi knew that it couldn’t take on the old luxury brands at their own game. BMW and Mercedes-Benz had massive, loyal followings that the four-rings couldn’t persuade. So Audi found its own audience.
In the ’90s and early ’00s, the four-ringed brand set out to encourage younger buyers. With the infamous unintended acceleration problem in its rear-view mirror, Audi marketed itself as the fun, interesting and youthful brand for a new generation of customers. It aimed itself at millennials that were just starting to come into some money and it was a good idea because it worked.
Audi customers were those that wanted a premium brand, a luxury car to treat themselves to, but didn’t want something their parents drove. That’s still the case today. So the folks in Ingolstadt were right to target a younger audience, a group of customers that want something premium but also youthful, luxurious but also fun. They were right because it’s still working.
Admittedly, the four-rings have lost their footing a bit, to even more hip, young brands like Tesla. However, Audi’s build quality, better cabin technology, better driving dynamics, superior luxury and far better dealer network will all combine to help the Bavaria fight back against Silicon Valley. If it could take on BMW and Mercedes-Benz at their absolute peak of popularity, it can handle Tesla.