Audi Japan drives the automotive industry forward
AUGUST 2021 Investing in Japan / Text by Toby Waters
AUGUST 2021 Investing in Japan / Text by Toby Waters
The four pillars of the House of Progress Tokyo — sustainability, e-mobility, digitalisation, and progressive design — are also the guiding principles for the future of the Audi brand. Philipp Noack, who served as president of Audi Japan from September 2018 until the end of last month, considers the e-tron GT to be the embodiment of these principles.
“The e-tron GT combines sustainability with a beautiful design and premium quality,” he says. “To create this car, we have used new techniques of production, with an emphasis on circular production and the use of recycled materials. The e-tron GT will shape our brand going forward.”
Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, more than 1,000 people were able to test-drive a number of recent Audi models, including the e-tron Sportback, at the House of Progress. The firm more than doubled its predicted key performance indicators for the pop-up showroom.
GEARING UP FOR TOMORROW
Sustainability — especially as set out by the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — is becoming increasingly important to businesses around the world, in response to both climate change and customer demand. According to Noack, it is central to Audi’s mission to work towards achieving the SDGs most relevant to its business. These include decent work and economic growth (#8); industry, innovation, and infrastructure (#9); sustainable cities and communities (#11); responsible consumption and production (#12); and climate action (#13).
Since the SDGs were introduced in 2015, Audi globally has been working to make all of its production plants carbon neutral by 2025. It has already achieved this goal at some of its main factories, in Brussels, Belgium; Gyor, Hungary; and Bollinger Hofe, Germany. The firm has shifted its focus to promoting electric vehicles (EVs) and to investing heavily in the infrastructure that will make EVs a more viable option for consumers.
“We are committed to the Paris Agreement and to reducing our CO₂ emissions, so we are also aiming for greater sustainability with our cars,” he says. “Our strategy is that one-third of our total sales by 2025 will come from electric vehicles.”
Putting more EVs on the road and reducing CO₂ emissions are Audi’s goals for Japan, as well.
“Also by 2025, we will have brought 14 fully electronic vehicles into the Japanese market,” he adds. “When we sell the e-tron here in Japan, we make it clear to customers that we are working with an energy company and that when they charge their cars it is with renewable energy.”
Noack emphasises that the goal is for the firm’s entire operation to become carbon neutral. He is especially pleased by how responsive Audi Japan’s dealers have been to the need for change.
“All of our 52 e-tron dealers nationwide are committed to — and believe in — our strategy of full electrification. Each will make an investment of ¥30 million for charging infrastructure, training, and services,” he states. “This will not only help us to achieve our goals, but also will give us a strong backbone for sales in the future, especially as we expand our e-tron network and anticipate to grow to 100 e-tron dealers.”
Another pillar of the Audi brand, digitalisation, is helping to ensure the automaker’s cars are meeting the needs of today’s consumers.
“Like sustainability, digitalisation is something we want through the entire value chain — digitalisation is transforming our cars, as more people want to be connected,” Noack says. “There’s an internet connection in our cars, so people can download movies, check the weather or the stock market, or use our man–machine interface to have the latest news read out. They can also use our app, myAudi, to check remotely if the car is fully charged, and to lock or unlock their car.”
Digitalisation is also changing how the e-tron GT and other Audi cars are being sold.
“We are beginning to use new technologies, like Google Glass, for example, to showcase the car in some regions,” he says. “Increasingly, we are also offering e-commerce for our cars and allowing people to make service appointments online. In Japan, you can check our stock levels and reserve test drives. I wouldn’t be surprised if we eventually offer all of our contractual work and financial services online.”
A SMOOTH TRANSITION
As important as sustainability and digitalisation are to Audi’s future, equally important is the need for customers to have the feeling that they are driving an Audi. Noack calls this a car’s Audiness.
“Audi is making a real effort to move forward with e-mobility and sustainability, but without losing that typical Audiness. What is important to us is that, when you step into one of our cars, whether it has an electric or a combustion engine, you feel that it’s an Audi,” he says. “For our electric cars, although we are using recycled materials, we are using the same design language, so everything you touch inside the car has that Audiness. We want to make sure that our loyal customers — who love the design, who love the interiors — feel at home when they step into our EVs.”
Audi’s EVs are also making an impression in Japan.
“Outside Europe, not many have had contact with the Audi brand,” says Noack. “At the House of Progress Tokyo, we kept getting feedback from people who were surprised by the quality of our cars, and the smoothness of the drive.”
This month, Noack begins a new position as head of the firm’s German operations. Though the pandemic brought with it a number of challenges for the Japan office, he is proud of the accomplishments made at the House of Progress Tokyo, and also of the fact that the e-tron Sportback won the Technology Prize at Japan’s Car of the Year awards last year.
Even though he has now left Japan, Noack can feel confident in the future of Audi here. The four pillars of the house he helped to build are set to stand strong for years to come. •