Audi of America

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Walter Hanek compares Audi of America's current runaway success to pushing a huge rock up a mountain.

"Then, all of a sudden, the momentum kicks in, and it starts to roll," the Audi marketing director says.

The company has raised its sales steadily, posting double-digit jumps recently. Vehicle sales through April rocketed by 55% to 26,508 from a year ago, according to Automotive News.

Mr. Hanek says this year the brand is on track to surpass its U.S. sales peak of 74,061 in 1986. Audi will sell 75,000 vehicles, maybe as many as 80,000 this year if it can get the cars from European factories.

Mr. Hanek, 41, has been in his current post since early 1999. Research with owners started soon afterward. Audi learned its owners see their cars as an extension of themselves: progressive and ambassadors of change.

Working with McKinney & Silver, Raleigh, N.C., the marketer kicked off a common-themed ad campaign last fall that played off the use of traffic signs and also dialed up Audi's performance message. It was the first umbrella theme for Audi.

Since bowing last May, the TT hardtop coupe has been a consumer magnet in Audi showrooms. The TT convertible, on sale since last month, is doing the same. The car is still advertised because the TT, as Mr. Hanek sees it, is "the finest definition of a progressive brand."

Audi knows with its limited marketing budget it can't chase every customer. The marketer has moved into more non-traditional ad arenas, sponsoring the San Diego Opera as well as symphonies in several cities.

Mr. Hanek is already working on the fall launch of the new all-road Quattro. It's based on the A6 Avant station wagon and is Audi's candidate in the crossover-vehicle category. He says the vehicle is "another brand-defining car that will broaden the brand."

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