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We talk to Audi Sport's latest CEO, Stephan Winkelmann, in a round table interview at the 2017 Audi R8 LMS Cup at the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia.

12 May 2017

During the first race weekend of the 2017 Audi R8 LMS Cup, held at the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia on 6th and 7th May, we got a unique opportunity to chat with Audi Sport CEO Stephan Winkelmann (SW) about the race and the future of Audi Sport. The 52-year old studied political science, worked 11 years for Fiat Auto before joining Lamborghini and now heads the Audi Sport brand.

Audi Sport GmBH, formerly known as quattro GmBH, was recently rebranded to better represent the company's motorsport DNA. Four pillars form the foundation of Audi Sport, with the first and most important being its car business - the Audi R8 and RS models - followed by Audi exclusive, Audi Collection, and Audi Sport Customer Racing.

Audi Sport CEO Stephan Winkelmann explaining the reason behind the company's recent rebranding
SGCM: Why change the quattro GmBH name to Audi Sport GmBH?

SW: Last year, we decided to change the name because the red rhombus and the Audi Sport name is what the company is all about. Motorsport has been part of our DNA since the 1930s. The silver arrows and rally success, and in the last two decades, the WEC, historic wins in Le Mans, DTM, the R8 GT3; plus everything else that is coming.

So all of that is under the umbrella of Audi Sport, which is very much connected to this DNA. And therefore, we looked for this name because it's much more fitting and comprehensive worldwide.

SGCM: In which direction is the Audi S and RS headed?

SW: Let's take the R8, which is our exclusive car, the RS6 and the RS7 as examples. Our focus is on cars that have both performance and beautiful design because we are not a super sports car brand. It's about daily useability - driving at top speed all day with no problems, high-quality, high levels of comfort - all of these have to be included. And this is what our brand must bring forward.

On one hand we have the R8, which is a performance car but very comfortable even with its mid-rear engine. On the other hand we have the RS6 Avant, which is a family car but can reach a top speed of over 300km/h. So we will continue to invest in this but we will also grow more prestige segments.

Stephan Winkelmann mentions that Audi Sport models are all about daily useability as they need to have performance, as well as quality and comfort
SGCM: Where do you see hybridisation under the Audi Sport umbrella?

SW: Performance cars have to change and a decision has to be made whether to take an evolutionary or revolutionary approach. As I said before, it's a matter of how much you can afford. Sooner or later this has to be done by explaining to the customers the difference between the cars of today and what you're going to present in the future.

There will be a time when it's not the ultimate performance car, so it's a matter of the battery technology. And this means the weight of the car, how many times you can accelerate from 0-100km/h, how long you can maintain top speed, the range, and also the infrastructure. All these things have to work together and, for a performance car, you don't have to be the first one to step in.

SGCM: What plans do you have for other Audi cars - maybe those more accessible, less expensive than the R8 - in their own single-make series?

SW: We're constantly thinking about opportunities. It's clear that now we are trying to fill the gaps, as I said - RS3 LMS, GT4, GT3 - these are all segments, which are growing, which are all established and, which are very well distributed. So this is the first effort to get the cars out there and to be competitive against the other brands.

Audi Sport will continue the RS6 Avant, even if it's only performing well in Europe
SGCM: How do you decide which models will become Audi Sport models?

SW: You look into the segments and bodystyles and skip the ones that are not performance cars but you look very carefully in the growing segments and the ones that are giving prestige to the brand. Then there's the scarcity, which makes you decide and prioritise.

For me size matters so the bodystyle matters, and the segment matters. Then we go from top down. For example, we strongly believe that the SUVs of the future will be more important for Audi Sport; the limousines and other types of cars.

But we will keep the myth alive. So we will continue the RS6 or RS6 Avant, even if it's only a very strong European car and not worldwide. This is the balance. On one hand we have to keep the myths of the past and on the other we have to look forward into the segments but not by picking everything.
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