Audi CEO Predicts Tougher Times for Automakers in 2012

Audi CEO Rupert Stadler predicts the New Year will bring new challenges for automakers. In an interview with Reuters, Stadler said he expects the industry to continue to grow over the next decade thanks to developing markets.

Although he did not give a timeframe, Stadler said he expects to see continued growth of between eight percent and nine percent in China. And he expects demand for premium autos in China to grow as much as 20 percent to 30 percent. That would indeed be good news for Audi which currently leads BMW and Daimler AG in luxury auto sales in China.

In line with Volkswagen’s goal of becoming the world’s largest automaker by 2016, Stadler said he intends for Audi to become the world’s top luxury automaker by 2015. Premium automakers, he said, have a much better chance for growth over the next decade as emerging markets produce more affluent buyers.

Stadler also has ambitious plans for Audi the U.S. market. With nearly two million luxury autos, the U.S. is currently the largest premium car market, but Audi currently trails both BMW and Mercedes in U.S. sales.

Audi is planning to build a new production facility in North America but has not yet announced where the plant will be constructed. In the interview, Stadler mentioned the lower cost of labor in Mexico, but speculated that joining Volkswagen at its Chattanooga, Tennessee plant would help reduce startup costs. On the other hand, producing Audi’s in the U.S. would result in higher customs fees being placed on the vehicles it exports.

Stadler also took the opportunity of the interview to deny rumors that he might replace Martin Winterkorn as CEO of Audi’s parent company, Volkswagen AG. Winterkorn has indicated that he will step down in 2016.

Winterkorn and his predecessor Ferdinand Piech both held the position of Audi CEO prior to ascending to the position of VW CEO. Piech now serves as Volkswagen’s supervisory board chairman. Stadler has held the position of Audi CEO since 2007 and began serving on the Volkswagen board of directors in 2010.

When asked, straight-out, if he would like to assume the leadership role at VW, Stadler said, “No. I have many things to do here [at Audi].

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