Audi’s new CEO sees crisis giving struggling carmaker an opening
Audi AG’s new Chief Executive Officer Markus Duesmann plans to seize the deepest industry slump in decades to make the carmaker more nimble and restore its technological edge after five years of management turmoil.
Duesman intends to review Audi’s product lineup and speed up vehicle development at Volkswagen AG’s premium-car division, he said during a webcast for the unveiling of the electric Q4 Sportback E-Tron concept vehicle.
“We take the crisis as opportunity and even invitation to try new things," Duesmann said, in his first public comments as CEO since taking over in April. “We have to do a big job, but we will get it done."
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The former BMW AG executive was hired to revive profits at Audi after years of upheaval in the wake of the diesel-emissions crisis that erupted in 2015. Audi’s earnings are vital for Volkswagen to finance the industry’s largest push into electric vehicles, with the Covid-19 pandemic only increasing the pressure to become more flexible to protect liquidity.
Audi has wrestled with operational hiccups that delayed electric-car projects meant to help the German carmaker better compete with Tesla Inc. It also saw several board members depart and last year struggled with production bottlenecks triggered by stricter emissions-testing procedures in Europe.
The Q4 Sportback E-Tron is slated to expand Audi’s electric-car offerings next year, flanking the E-Tron SUV introduced in 2018 as well as the E-Tron GT sportscar that will be based on technology from Porsche.
One of Duesmann’s key moves since taking over at Audi was to set up an engineering task force dubbed Artemis to develop a new electric car by 2024. The brand’s previous efforts to challenge Tesla struggled to gain traction.
Audi sales chief Hildegard Wortmann said during the webcast that US deliveries are “picking up," and demand in China has improved recently. The recovery in Europe is progressing more slowly, she said.
Still, Audi expects the current slump to be over soon. Operating profit should reach 4.2 billion euros ($4.7 billion) next year and almost 5.8 billion euros in 2022, with the latter topping pre-crisis levels, the company said recently.
The carmaker plans to cut as many as 9,500 jobs in Germany by 2025 to improve earnings by about 6 billion euros and free up funds for the development of electric and hybrid vehicles, Audi said last year.