words: Aaron Plante, photos: Denis Podmarkov, Colin McCarty, Audi AG
Rear Spoiler: Turbo Whine…I’m not talking forced induction
This is a request to us, the North American Audi enthusiast. Over the last decade we’ve complained about manual transmissions, a wagon-less west, lack of RS models, and the ubiquitous “North America doesn’t get the cool stuff.”
Most recently, we’ve replaced that discontent with forced induced whines over the focus on electrics. We flock to social media outlets to opine on our misfortunes and slamming EV progress.
There is some justification for this. The marketplace has done all these things. But there’s a very rational reason and it’s not personal; it’s business.
Spoiler Alert: automakers are for-profit companies; not social support groups for autophiles. Despite my insistence to shift my own gears (my daily driver is still a manual), the earnings-to-gear ratios are simple. In 2018, only 2% of the US purchased manuals out of the 57 available models automakers bothered to offer and offering them is a bother. There is a cost in bringing them to the US. Additionally, automatics are more efficient, safer, and less warranty cost prone. So, what is Audi’s motivation to offer them? The rest of our complaints follow similar paths.
There is no real market for these things. Fan groups make you feel like you are one of many thousands of committed customers. But our numbers are measured in single-digit percentages. Our minority vote is further liquidated by our inaction.
The quintessential example is our Audi unicorn. I can’t recall an Audi Club event with an Audi exec present that didn’t include asking when we were getting the RS 6 Avant. The enthusiast community has been demanding it since its debut. You would think with all that screaming, Audi would have sent us the C5 variant back in July 2002.
While the enthusiast energy tells us it’s a no-brainer, the numbers tell us something else. In 2018, Audi’s total US sales were 223,323 units. Some quick online hunting found a half dozen or so Facebook groups with RS and/or Avant in their titles. All together they represent about 20,000 members. If we generously presume half of them are committed to dropping six figures on an RS 6 Avant that would comprise 4.5% of Audi’s 2018 US sales. By comparison, the much more affordable allroad’s 2018 sales represented 0.1% of total sales. This is hardly a compelling ROI considering the presumed cost to bring it to market.
So why then did Audi announce it would be bringing the RS 6 Avant across the pond?
Marketing? Most of the halo cars made don’t contribute much to net revenue; they build a brand. But the real answer is homologation. On the commercial side, homologation refers to the process of certifying a vehicle or a component that has satisfied the requirements of a regulatory group. For the RS 6 Avant, the timing is right for two reasons. The first is the allroad’s success (ignoring 2018) in the US enabling Audi to build a business case to bring the A6 allroad to the states. Since our A6 uses the same 3.0-liter V6, they only had to homologate the wagon body. With the body homologated, the RS 6 trim could follow more easily. Secondly, since the RS 6 Avant shares its performance parts with the RS 7, the go-fast parts are also already homologated.
So, in a year where we whine about Audi’s focus on electrification, the imminent demise of the fossil fuel powerplants, and autonomy, Audi doesn’t just deliver an RS car…it delivers the RS car. But that’s just the start.
In 2020, we will continue to get the RS 3, RS 5, a new RS 7, R8, and will be adding the RS 6 Avant. In the SUV sector, the SQ7 and RS Q8 join the SQ5… while talk of the RS Q3 has been teased. For the wagoneers, we will get the A6 allroad. Finally, for those who have embraced the electrification of Audi, we will see the e-tron Sportback and a likely e-tron Sport. Shortly thereafter, the e-tron GT arrives, and beyond that a possible e-tron GT Avant, R8 replacement, and more have been rumored.
This isn’t the year Audi sold its soul to the battery; it’s the year they delivered what we said we wanted. Question is, will we buy them?