Whether it’s a blessing or a curse, I don’t know for sure. People I’ve never met – which is a large group of people – have an uncanny ability to identify me as a Cain. For all I know, my grandfather sold them a horse in the 60s. Perhaps my father taught them high school economics in the 70s. My uncle possibly sold them a Dodge Aries in the 80s. Maybe my brother ordered their parts at the Suzuki dealership in the 90s. Certain genes flow more fervently. Thus, I’m identifiable.
The Baldwins, Sutters, Jacksons, and a family you’ve never heard of in Atlantic Canada know how the Audi Crosslane Coupe Concept feels. Eleven years ago in Paris, Audi displayed the Steppenwolf. The Crosslane appears to be the same vehicle, details aside. It’s almost as though Audi designers went on vacation this summer. At the last second, Audi executives realized they had nothing new to show in Paris. One guy was brought back from a staycation in Rothenburg ob der Tauber with the temptation of time-and-a-half to rework the Steppenwolf. Eleven years later.
I didn’t attend art school. My formal car design education includes reading Tony Lewin’s How To Design Cars Like A Pro and, for a while, reading Robert Cumberford’s piece in Automobile and Stephen Bayley’s column in Car. I do study car sales, however, and I know that the Steppenwolf’s descendants, the Q7 and Q5, have been major players for Audi. 33,906 Q models were sold in the U.S. last year.
Think back to the pre-Q era: the U.S. new vehicle market shrunk 24.8% from calendar year 2005 to calendar year 2011, yet Audi USA sales were 41.5% higher in 2011 than in 2005. That growth wasn’t powered by preexisting Audis, however. Excluding the Q5 and the Q7, Audi USA posted a 2011 increase of 0.7% compared with 2005. Models which were on sale in 2005 and still on sale in 2011 actually slid 16.8%. That’s something, of course, as the overall industry’s decline was much worse.
Nevertheless, the reason you see more new Audis on the road now than in 2005 is because there are more Audis to be sold. Audi’s best-seller, the A4, suffered a 28% decline between 2005 and 2011, a drop that’s worse than what the overall market endured. Audi sold 34,495 more vehicles in 2011 than in 2005. Audi’s core models didn’t make that happen. In order to fuel the volume expansion, Audi brought to market the A5, A7, R8, Q5, and Q7. Collectively, those five models found 56,706 buyers last year.
Would importing the Q3 to North America be a mistake? BMW has found plenty of Canadian success with the X1. We don’t need a Crosslane-inspired Q2, but then again, we don’t need 333-horsepower S5 Cabriolets, either. Audi wants to sell more cars. If greater market share in the 3-Series/C-Class segment can’t be won, conquering or creating a new crossover niche isn’t the worst idea coming out of a product planner’s brainstorming session.
Sadly, if the Crosslane Coupe Concept does become a production Q2, it will look just like every other Audi. Unfortunately, Audi’s successful design team, the one which brought us the wildly unique first-generation TT and then totally distinguished the R8 from the Gallardo, is looking back eleven years rather than coming up with new ideas. I grew up in Audis. My father exchanged his four times when the odometer rang up 100,000 kilometres. Yet while I’ll urge luxury car buyers to consider an Audi when they’d otherwise make the default E-Class or RX350 choice, I’m personally losing interest
Audi is most certainly not the only automaker designing cars this way. You’re not the only one routinely asking yourself, “Which BMW is that?”, or, “Is that really a new Aston Martin model?” The Crosslane’s lack of originality just happen to make it the latest egregious example of a disappointing trend.