Audi Sport in no race for a halo, Winkelmann says

Winkelmann’s goal: A balanced lineup that adds sales volume.

CARMEL, Calif. — It’s the kind of card any CEO wants up his sleeve: a low-volume hypercar that casts a wide and bright halo across the rest of the brand’s vehicles.

Audi Sport’s Stephan Winkelmann expects to play that card in the future — but not before dealing out a host of new models for his division’s lineup.

Winkelmann, who led Audi’s Lamborghini unit from 2005 to 2016, left to take over as CEO of Audi’s quattro GmbH division. The performance subbrand — similar to Mercedes-AMG or BMW’s M division — has since worked to reposition itself as Audi Sport.

Models such as the R8, RS 3, TT RS and RS 7 fall under its purview, as does Audi’s racing efforts in Formula E, GT3 and GT4, and a customization program called Audi Exclusive.

With more than a decade at the helm of Lambo, Winkelmann knows more than most about building low-volume exotic cars — and the clients and profits they attract.

So what about a low-volume exotic car positioned above the midengine R8?

“I’m very keen on working on this in the future,” Winkelmann told Automotive Newson the sidelines of the annual Quail high-end car show here last week. “I think not only the brand deserves it, but there is a demand outside, and the [customers] are looking into it.”

Still, despite requests from customers for an Audi Sport hypercar, Winkelmann and his revamped division will be busy for the foreseeable future launching a host of new nameplates, particularly crossovers and fully electric cars.

Unlike Mercedes-AMG, which offers 23 models based on Mercedes vehicles globally, Audi Sport won’t build its own version of every model Audi sells, Winkelmann said.

Instead, his goal is a balanced lineup that brings prestige to the Audi name while adding some sales volume.

Filling out Audi Sport’s roster of crossovers is the immediate challenge. The only crossover to bear the RS name is the bite-size RS Q3 that is sold abroad. In response to calls from customers and dealers, Audi Sport is planning to flesh out that lineup.

“This is important because this is one of the things which is allowing you to have a worldwide presence,” Winkelmann said. “The segment is growing, and we have good synergies there, and we also have fantastic cars in terms of design and performance.”

He declined to name specific models, but an RS Q5 is expected to debut this year, and an RS Q8 — a go-fast version of Audi’s upcoming and all-new Q8 crossover — should land by the end of the decade.

At the same time, Audi Sport will release new generations of the RS sedan, coupe and wagon variants of the RS 4, RS 5 and RS 6 and additional variants of the R8.

But it will turn its attention next to its own version of an e-tron all-electric vehicle. Audi itself has promised the e-tron crossover would begin production in 2018, followed by the e-tron Sportback in 2019.

Audi Sport would release its take on e-tron in 2020 or 2021 with a “coupe-ish sedan” and/or a “coupe-ish SUV,” Winkelmann said. The models would focus on a balance of performance and range because customers would expect the practicality of a daily driver rather than a weekend toy.

“You need the range, but you also need the excitement factor,” he said.

Only then will a hypercar enter Winkelmann’s line of sight.

It would use components from the other Volkswagen Group entities but would need to maintain Audi’s DNA. Such a model would be a halo project not only for Audi Sport, but also the Audi brand, increasing the pressure on him and his division to get it right, Winkelmann said.

Nevertheless, shooting above the R8 is a crucial piece to Audi Sport’s quest to become a true performance leader in the luxury market.

“If you want to build up,” Winkelmann said, “you have to have always something on top.”