Connected Rings: Q&A With Audi One Director Cody Thacker on the Electric Future

source: Audi of America

Audi of America has a dedicated team specifically tackling topics of electrification strategy, trends, emerging business models and getting ahead of “mobility,” the general term coined for future transportation business models. It’s called Audi ONE—short for Organization for a New Era—led by its director, Cody Thacker.

Thacker and his team are focused on preparing Audi’s U.S. operations with the tools to build meaningful, valuable relationships and partnerships in the electrification space and helping facilitate the sales and service of electric vehicles within Audi’s network of retail dealers.

We caught up with Thacker to discuss how he came to Audi, the need for a dedicated electrification strategy team, proliferation of electric vehicles and what Audi has learned a year after bringing the Audi e-tron SUV to market.

Audi Soul: Let’s start at the beginning—what brought you to Audi?

Cody Thacker: My background is atypical in that I was previously in the military, making me a hardcore career-switcher. About 20 years ago, I spent a summer interning at General Motors, and my passion for the automotive business was really seeded with that experience. I haven’t stopped learning since then, figuring out what makes the business tick. Now, in my current role, I’m helping shape the strategy of how we prepare for changes on the horizon. As a company, Audi in particular has embodied innovation. That was the initial appeal, and caused me to pester HR…a lot…until I was able to join the company. Since then, the appeal of this brand has become the amazing group of coworkers within Audi and Audi ONE that cares deeply about their work and building the future of the brand.

AS: How did Audi ONE come about?

CT: Audi ONE was the brainchild of [current Volkswagen Group of America CEO] Scott Keogh and was quite clever in that it recognized that no existing department within the company was well-suited to pivoting outside of their traditional duties to contemplate the massive shifts soon arriving in the automotive industry. As originally conceived, Audi ONE provided an opportunity for our Strategy and Product Management specialists to formally come together, consider electrification and develop a perspective on how Audi could compete better by using this new, emerging technology.

EVs present a lot of new and different elements to established OEMs. New is difficult. Different is difficult. New and different together have the potential to be impossible. And that’s why an automaker would create a dedicated EV team. We take new and different, iterate on all of the opportunities that it creates, and then find ways to ensure that the larger organization is capitalizing.

AS: How has Audi ONE evolved since its inception?

CT: To overly simplify it, Audi ONE was primarily a research entity in its early life. The Audi e-tron – the brand’s first fully electric vehicle – has been developed with a high level of U.S. market feedback thanks to the early Audi ONE team. At the point of market introduction, our focus shifted to ensuring operational readiness across both sales and service functions. With battery-electric vehicles (BEVs), I think that we all discovered that you can’t just pull one thread and solve it independently. When it comes to the nuts and bolts of selling and servicing the e-tron, there are many interconnected threads—some of which are technical and some of which are simply educational—that must be holistically addressed to provide a premium customer experience.

AS: What would you say are Audi ONE’s most crucial roles within company?

CT: Audi is shifting toward a goal of a 30% electrified portfolio in the U.S., with many of those models being fully electric. Likewise, the automotive industry as a whole is trending toward electrification. Until that fully happens, though, there needs to be a focused group of EV expert advocates that can provide support during the transition. We are EV enthusiasts both internally and externally, and we take our responsibility seriously to grow the number of devoted EV advocates who will push this technology into the future and the path to market leadership.

AS: What are some success stories we’ve seen through the Audi ONE team?

CT: I’m really proud of the amount of collaboration that’s occurred between and within Audi of America, Audi AG, and Volkswagen Group of America. We’ve often facilitated that collaboration when it comes to the e-tron launch, but our biggest internal success is starting the conversations that deliver solutions for e-tron drivers.

Externally, this can be seen as getting the right product with the right packaging to the U.S. market, feeding consumer experiences back to technical development and building an ecosystem around the e-tron that is sympathetic and responsive to real barriers to purchase. For example, we partnered with Electrify America to provide e-tron owners 1,000 kWh of charging at no additional cost for use at Electrify America fast-charging stations within the first four years of ownership. We worked with Amazon Home Services to provide garage charging installation services, and collaborated with Arcadia to provide e-tron drivers with access to renewable energy.

AS: What are some of the challenges still facing Audi ONE?

CT: Electrification is still in its infancy. I’m confident that consumers will grow to love and demand EVs. Before that happens, though, all stakeholders need to join forces to settle lingering issues that introduce seeds of doubt into EV ownership. How do utilities treat EV charging rates? How do utilities and charge point operators interact? What communication standards govern how vehicles and charging infrastructure communicate, and does that allow the customer experience to be painless? How can EVs and the electric grid communicate to build resiliency, lower retail rates, and bring more renewables online? This is a big list with many challenges, but all of it is achievable with all of the right stakeholders coming to the table.

AS: How do you see electrification evolving in the U.S.? Where do you see Audi’s role in it?

CT: We’re already seeing a shift in consumer mindset. Consumer research is showing that EVs are now viewed as a performance option. In terms of range anxiety and charging infrastructure, a recent AAA study showed that the vast majority of current EV owners have no range anxiety at all. Data points like these indicate that mass adoption of EVs is very close. Audi will be there with an impressive portfolio of approximately 30 electrified vehicles globally—most of them fully electric—to serve a number of consumer segments.

AS: How are Audi of America and Audi ONE helping shape the vehicles sold in the U.S.?

CT: The Audi of America product team is a trusted partner of Audi AG. They work together extremely closely to ensure that U.S. needs and preferences enter early into the design process. The fact that Audi’s first BEV, the e-tron, is a large SUV is clearly a reflection of U.S. consumer tastes and indicative of the share of voice that the U.S. market has in the product plans of a global company. We’ll keep advocating for the U.S. consumer, relaying the particular demands of U.S. lifestyles and pushing the product specifications required by U.S. geography and driving behaviors.

AS: How do you see the role of Audi ONE evolving as electrification becomes more prevalent?

CT: Over the next few years, I anticipate that we’ll pivot away from the vehicle itself and deeper into the ecosystem. There’s tremendous value in unlocking the energy and data ecosystem in which EVs live, so that’s were evolution will occur for our team.

Cody Thacker presented the EV ecosystem for which Audi prepared at a luncheon hosted by the Economic Club of Chicago, outlining where the industry is, where it’s going and opportunities that will arise with electrification and emerging business models. You can watch it below.