The Five Olympic Rings are a symbol of union and brotherhood between men and women of different nations and backgrounds, as embodied in London this past summer. While the best athletes in the world were competing, I was fortunate to experience another form of bonding thanks to the Four Audi Rings in a place that until this year was completely foreign to me: Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.
I have shared car stories in many continents, especially in climates where snow, ice, and rain are common. But I never expected to hear: “quattro’s are the absolute best in slippery conditions, far superior to anything else due to their balance and low center of gravity…” in Abu Dhabi, from our Lebanese born agent Samer Merheb while the outside temperature was a balmy 115°F and Ramadan was in progress!
Linda and I found ourselves in that part of the world, where 80% of the Middle East oil transits through, to investigate opportunities for our inherently safe fiber optic lighting products in the local oil and gas industry. Linda joined me for two reasons, the first being that she is our Director of Quality and Compliance. Since many of our products are developed primarily for the US Navy, we need to ensure that all of our exports are in observance of US State Department regulations, as I don’t look very good wearing orange jumpsuits or black and white horizontal stripes. The second was to learn the local culture and meet our agent and his family because, as is true everywhere, we can only be successful working with people we like, respect, and trust.
The email communications were encouraging indicating that good opportunities had been identified, however it is always a leap of faith for both parties, us traveling halfway across the world and Samer introducing us to his trusting customers. But when he picked us up in his impeccably kept Monsoon Grey 2012 Audi A4 S-Line, I immediately knew that we had made the right decision!
Drivers in Abu Dhabi would find themselves more at home in Milan or Rome than in most US cities, with merges and lane changes that American drivers would mistakenly confuse for cut-offs. Vehicles range from large luxury SUVs like Q7s, Cayenne, X5, X6, Land Cruisers, and Suburbans, to coupes and sedans including Audis, BMWs, Mini Coopers, Fords, and most cars sold in the USA. A good share of Ferraris, Aston Martins, Bentleys and other high-end luxury vehicles arme a testimonial of the black Abu Dhabi gold. However, only the license plates in English and Arabic reminded us that we were in the Emirates and not in any odern American or European city.
Samer piloted the A4 skillfully and primarily in Sport mode, extracting the appropriate performance from the 2.0 liters turbocharged engine, navigating city traffic and opening it up on the highways where he knew no speed cameras were present.
A benefit of having oil under the local soil is that gas prices are about 45% of what we pay in the USA and 20% of our European cousins’ cost. It was very enlightening to hear that when we fill our tanks, in addition to supporting the new constructions, the artificial islands, the indoor ski slope in Dubai, and Ferrari World with the world’s fastest roller coaster in Abu Dhabi, we are also funding the national sport of falconry. The sheiks engage in this pastime that consists of trained falcons each costing as much as a luxury sedan, typically living in large air-conditioned cages, chasing and capturing pigeons released by radio controlled mini-helicopters. A new twist to a sport practiced by our European ancestors in medieval times!
My 1985 4000 quattro was a great vehicle but it sometimes overheated in the summer traffic. When Audi designed the new generation 90 series in the late 1980’s, in true German style always longing for perfection, Audi engineers took cars to the African desert during the summer and ran them incessantly in the oppressive heat to optimize the engine cooling and air conditioning system. I can state that the efforts paid off because even in the searing hot weather, the A4 kept us very cool and comfortable showing no sign of sweating or panting.
Naturally, the discussion often drifted towards the automotive subject, ranging from the first time we drove a quattro in slippery conditions, Samer in the mountains of Lebanon and me in Connecticut, to the different concerns that we are faced in the New England winter as opposed to the desert in the summer heat. The wear and tear on tires, battery, and all rubber, plastic, and electrical parts is far more severe in the desert climate where 120°F is the norm than at the other end of the temperature spectrum where 20°F is a balmy Vermont winter day.
Besides, the prospect of breaking down on a desert highway when fatal dehydration can take place in a few hours provides an excellent incentive to upkeep one’s vehicle.
The wisdom of our decision to take a tour of the desert with a professional outfit as opposed to renting an SUV and venturing through the dunes on our own was confirmed by Samer’s stories of lost tourists found “fully cooked” by the rescue team after days in the heat. And we also understood why in these desert tours the vehicles always travel in pairs, piloted by experts having fun surfing the dunes and keeping the Land Cruisers on the sliding edge of rolling over just as us seasoned quattro drivers enjoy a power induced oversteer on a snowy country road.
The UAE and its capital Abu Dhabi are a fascinating country, one of the safest in the world where, just like in our small Connecticut town, you can leave the front door unlocked and the keys in your car. Hospitality is exceptional and multiple cultures and customs intermingle in harmony. And as of this year, alcohol is served during Ramadan after 7:30 in the evening – giving a new definition to “waiting for cocktail time”. It was also great to realize that, no matter where we were born, grew up, and reside, we share the same values and beliefs in hard work, respect for other cultures, and passion for the automotive engineering excellence of the Four Rings!