Doug Drives: Has Audi Given Up On Making Cars?

Doug DeMuro
by Doug DeMuro
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doug drives has audi given up on making cars

I was driving along the other day, and I found myself behind an Audi A6. A new Audi A6. A brand-new, midsize, luxurious Audi A6 sedan. And I thought to myself: When was the last time I saw one of these things?

This wasn’t always the case. Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, you saw the Audi A6 everywhere. They had that cool rounded design, and they were the dream of anyone who had an A4, or a 3-Series, or a C-Class. The Audi A6: The car that says you’ve made it — and that you need all-wheel drive.

So what the hell happened after that?

In 2005, Audi redesigned the A6. While sales briefly spiked, they didn’t stay up for long. By 2009 and 2010, U.S. sales were less than a quarter of their 2002 totals. A recent redesign helped, but it didn’t restore the A6 to its former glory. These days, Audi sells between 22,000 and 24,000 A6s a year in America, down from nearly 40,000 in the late 1990s. And it’s worse in Europe, where sales reached 126,000 in 1998 and 139,000 in 2006, only to fall to a steady 85,000 per year in the last few years.

I’ve always assumed that the A6 was losing sales to the smaller A4, which continues to grow larger and more family-oriented with every passing year. So I checked A4 sales figures — and guess what? While European sales peaked at 260,000 units a year sometime in the early 2000s, the A4 is now down in the range of 125,000 European sales per year. It’s just as bad in America, where A4 sales once easily cracked 50,000 units (in 2003) and have steadily declined each year since, despite redesigns in 2005 and 2008, to the current state of around 34,000 annual sales. That may not seem like a huge drop, but it’s a decline of more than a third from the boom times. That’s a big deal.

So, you might be wondering, if all the once-popular Audi models are going down the tubes, how the hell is this company not bankrupt?

I’ll tell you how: SUVs.

The Audi Q5 was released in calendar year 2009, right in the middle of the A4’s long, vast decline. Its first full year on the U.S. market, it sold 23,000 units. The next year, 25,000. Then 29,000. Then 40,000. Then 42,000. This year, they’ve already moved 46,000 Q5s in the first eleven months of the year.

Naturally, the Q5 isn’t the only Audi SUV that’s having a great time these days. Released in 2007, the Q7 sold 21,000 units in its first year on the market — and after a few rough years around 2010, facelifts and new engines have brought it back to 18,500 units in 2014, despite a fundamental design that’s seven years old. A new Q7 is coming this year, which should help to boost sales even further.

And then there’s the Q3, which didn’t even exist in the United States until about 18 months ago. This year, it has already shifted nearly 12,000 units through November, and those numbers only seem to be growing as the “subcompact luxury crossover” segment heats up rapidly.

And this leads to my question: Has Audi given up on making cars?

Of course not. The very premise is stupid. But let’s be clear: It appears that Audi, notoriously slow to respond to market demands and changing times, has very quickly seen the writing on the wall in this particular case. Demand for cars is down, so they’ve made SUVs. Many SUVs. Several models and hundreds of thousands of units globally. The company has clearly put its cards on the table, and its hand consists largely of SUVs.

This isn’t the case with rival automakers. Last year, the BMW 3-Series enjoyed its best U.S. sales year in more than a decade. The C-Class is in the same boat, with 2012, 2013 and 2014 going down as its best sales years in recent history. It’s even true of the aging E-Class, which has recorded 60,000 or more sales in every year since 2010, despite barely being able to crack 50,000 sales in the decade earlier.

My view: Audi has begun ceding the car market to its rivals, focusing instead on SUVs and crossovers. These days, the Q7 is the car that says you’ve made it and you need all-wheel drive. Seeing an A6 is merely an unusual surprise.

Doug DeMuro
Doug DeMuro

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  • CincyDavid CincyDavid on Jan 04, 2016

    I have been a car enthusiast since the 60s but I am at a point that I have trouble differentiating between 3/5/7 series BMWs and A3/4/6/8 Audis, and the latest MB S Class looks small to's confusing to me. I have owned two Audis, a 91 100s quattro which had an amazing interior...beautiful car but growly, underpowered inline 5 and worse gas mileage than the boxy BMW 528e...and a 98 A4 1.8t quattro that I hated...pleather seats, felt ponderous and no fun to drive, had reliability issues. Not a fan of CUVs, but it is telling that my kids fight over who gets to drive the 06 Kia Sportage, over a 13 Civic and a 14 Accord...they both like sitting up and seeing what's going on.

  • Cimarron typeR Cimarron typeR on Jan 05, 2016

    Here in the midwest part of the migration to luxury cuv/suvs is the poor condition of roads and limited snow removal budgets.

  • Carsofchaos Bike lanes are in use what maybe 10 to 12 hours a day? The other periods of the day they aren't in use whatsoever. A bike can carry one person and a vehicle can carry multiple people. It's very simple math to figure out that a bike lane in no way shape or form will handle more people than cars will.The bigger issue is double parked delivery vehicles. They are often double parked and taking up lanes because there are cars parked on the curb. You combine that with a bike lane and pedestrians Crossing wherever they feel like it and it's a recipe for disaster. I think if we could just go back to two lanes of traffic things would flow much better. I started coming to the city in 2003 before a lot of these bike lanes were implemented and the traffic is definitely much worse now than it was back then. Sadly at this point I don't really think there is a solution but I can guarantee that congestion pricing will not fix this problem.
  • Charles When I lived in Los Angeles I saw a 9-5 a few times and instanly admired the sweeping low slug aerodynamic jet tech influenced lines and all that beautiful glass. The car was very different from what I expected from a Saab even though the 900 Turbo was nice. A casual lady friend had a Saab Sonnet, never drove or rode in it but nonetheless chilled my enthusiasm and I eventually forgot about Saabs. In the following years I have had seven Mercedes's, three or four Jaguars even two Daimlers both the 250 V-8 and the massive and powerful Majestic Major. Daily drivers of a brand new 300ZX 2+2 and Lincolns, plus a few diesel trucks. Having moved to my big farm in central New York, trucks and SUV's are the standard, even though I have a Mercedes S500 in one of my barns. Due to circumstances with my Ford Explorer and needing a second driver I found the 2006 9-5 locally. Very little surface rust, none undercarriage, original owner, garage kept, wife driver and all the original literature and a ton of paid receipts and history. The car just turned 200,000 miles and I love it. Feels new like I'm back in my Nissan 300ZX with a lot more European class and ready power with the awesome turbo. So fun to drive, the smooth power and torque is incredible! Great price paid to justify going through the car and giving her everything she needs, i.e., new tires, battery, all shocks, struts, control arms, timing chain and rust removable to come, plus more. The problem now is I want to restore it and likely put it in my concrete barn and only drive in good weather. As to the writer, Alex Dykes, I take great exception calling the 9-5 Saab "ugly," finding myself looking back at her beauty and uniqueness. Moreover, I get new looks from others not quite recognizing, like the days out west with my more expensive European cars. There are Saabs eclipsing 300K rourinely and one at a million miles and I believe one car with 500K on the original engine. So clearly, this is a keeper, in love already with my SportCombi. I want to be in that elite club.
  • Marky S. I own the same C.C. XSE Hybrid AWD as in this article, but in Barcelona Red with the black roof. I love my car for its size, packaging, and the fact that it offers both AWD and Hybrid technology together. Visibility is impressive, as is its small turning circle. I consider the C.C. more of a "station wagon" by proportion, rather than an “SUV.” It is fun to drive, with zippy response and perky pick-up. It is a pleasant car to drive and ride in. It is not trying to be a “Butch Off-Roader”, or a cosseting “Luxury Cruiser.” Those are not its goals or purpose. The Corolla Cross XSE Hybrid AWD is a wonderful All-Purpose Car (O.K. – “SUV” if you must hear me say it!) with a combination of all the features it has at a reasonable price.
  • Ernesto Perez There's a line in the movie Armageddon where Bruce Willis says " is this the best idea NASA came up with?". Don't quote me. I'm asking is this the best idea NY came up with? What's next? Charging pedestrians to walk in certain parts of the city? Every year the price for everything gets more expensive and most of the services we pay for gets worse. Obviously more money is not the solution. What we need are better ideas, strategies and inventions. You want to charge drivers in the city - then put tolls on the free bridges like the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges. There's always a better way or product. It's just the idiots on top think they know best.
  • Carsofchaos The bike lanes aren't even close to carrying "more than the car lanes replaced". You clearly don't drive in Midtown Manhattan on a daily like I do.