Balbir Singh Dhillon, Head, Audi India on the A4 launch, says “many more cars” are headed our way
After almost a year, the Audi A4 returns to the brand’s portfolio in India. It has always been an important car for the brand and also a volume driver since it was first launched back in 2007. Since it is here now, fierce competition returns to the segment as the A4 has been priced in the same ballpark as the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and the BMW 3 Series.
“The delay was due to the pandemic” says Balbir Singh Dhillon, however, he is very positive on how the Audi A4 facelift will perform. “It is exceptional and will attract more and more buyers”, he says. The A4 now gets a more powerful 2-litre turbo-petrol engine and is festooned with premium kit inside and out, so it’s hard not to believe him.
Balbir Singh Dhillon also elaborates on the brand's plans going forward. “This year will be a combination of ICE powered and electrified cars, as well as sports cars and SUVs”, he says, assuring us that 2021 will be a busy year, keeping us automotive journalists engaged the whole year with exciting Audi cars and hopefully some RS badged ones too.
Read the full interview below:
Sirish Chandran: Congratulations on the launch of the new Audi A4. This has been some time coming, hasn't it?
Balbir Singh Dhillon: We have been waiting for the Audi A4 for quite some time now and there was a delay due to the pandemic. But we are happy that Audi has the first big launch of 2021 in the automotive industry and we're sure that the car will be a huge success as it has always been since its launch back in 2007.
SC: What are the key factors that will make the customers look at the Audi A4 again? It was one of your more popular models but because there was no refreshed model for some time, it lost traction.
BD: The Audi A4 has always been one of the best sellers in its segment. What it offers is the combination of performance, luxury, comfort and efficiency. Whether you are driving the car or being driven, this combination helps in both the cases. Contrary to the popular belief that most luxury car owners sit in the back, we see a lot of our customers wanting to drive it. Not just the A4, but most cars. Any person who is spending so much on the product also wants to truly experience it. You already know that the car comes with a 2-litre TFSI engine. The previous one had a 1.4-litre engine. It is that combination and the detailing that we have in the car in terms of digitalisation, the quality of the leather, the fit and finish, and the entire combination of interiors and exteriors, all put together is going to be an exceptional experience and that is what will attract more buyers.
SC: Speaking about the heart of the car, this has only the petrol engine. No diesels. It has been more than a year since Audi has been without a diesel. At the end of 2019, you spoke about having certain schemes and incentives for your customers so they won't miss a diesel engine. How has that been working out for you and what has the response been for your petrol-only portfolio?
BD: Last year, we launched many customer centric approaches. I'm happy to share the success story of the TFSI engine which we have in our A6 and other models at this point of time. It is really heartening to see the way the product was accepted and I can tell you that from the month of July, every month the number of petrol cars that were sold has actually surprised us. Specifically, I have to speak about the A4 in which we are giving our customers a complimentary four years service package that includes extended warranty and roadside assistance. You also remember that we did a similar thing on Audi Q2 as well where we gave five years of maintenance-free service package which included roadside assistance and extended warranty.
SC: This isn't a part of the price, right? Is this additional?
BD- As a pre-booking offer, we started the Audi A4 package and it was a part of the price if you pre-booked the car.
SC: BMW is going to launch the long wheelbase 3 Series. What is your take on the LWB cars? Even Mercedes-Benz has the E-Class LWB. Is it something that you are going to explore for your portfolio as well?
BD: Our strategy is that every option is open and for the time-being, it isn't something we are working on because we want our cars to be driven and be driven in. So for us that is very important. Apart from this, Audi's customers are by and large a lot of young people who want to associate with our brand and for them, driving is very very important.
SC: To add to the car being more driver focused, any chances of seeing the Quattro on the A4 to make it even more fun and driver focused?
BD: Let's have some surprises for the future, Sirish.
SC: I also want to talk about the recently launched Audi Q2. The pricing has been on the higher side and that is what even most prospective customers felt.
BD- So what we have for our customers is an offer to choose from, whether they want 'A' body style or 'B' body style, we have sedans and the Q2 which is a different body style altogether. So the customers have a choice to make. So our intention is to offer that choice. Even in the entry segment and all other segments, eventually, it is a customer's choice. There is a stable and positive demand for the Q2 in the market. So this product was launched for the first time in the country and we are happy with what we have done with it in the segment as well.
SC: How has business grown in the last few months? The whole industry in fact has seen a good uptake. Is that the same case with Audi? What are your plans going forward?
BD: We've had month-on-month growth over the last five months. There was pent up demand and it has continued. I can only tell you that December was our largest selling month in 2020. So to that extent, you're absolutely right. There has been growth and we expect this demand to grow in 2021. But again, we may not be at the level of what we were in from 2013 to 2015 when the luxury segment had maximum sales. But I think it is a matter of time. The overall luxury segment has remained around one per cent of the total market and this is a cause of concern. This is something that needs to grow. It hasn't grown for one reason or another, primarily due to the high taxation. So this is something where we expand our segment by bringing in more and more entry level cars and partly, it is the government's job to allow the segment to grow with fair taxation and duties.
Sirish- What was the best-selling model in your portfolio? Or as of now, what is the best-selling model?
BD- If you want specific numbers, we've been selling A4 and Q3 as the top two best-selling models and currently, the Audi A6 is the best selling model.
SC: Finally, what are your plans on your sportier models and the E-tron?
BD: This year is going to be a combination of ICE engines and electrified cars, also volume products and niche sports cars, sedans and SUVs. So in 2021, from our side, you will see products that are a combination of all the things I just mentioned. We will keep you extremely busy this year. That, I can assure you.
SC: So your RS portfolio is going to expand?
BD: Sirish, you will see many, many more products. That is all I can tell you.