To discuss the electrification strategy of Audi, Economy Middle East (EM) sat down with Hildegard Wortmann, a Member of the Board of Management for Sales and Marketing at Audi.
At the time of her appointment in 2019, she was the first female member of that body. Her body of knowledge of Audi plans and EV were evident in the following exclusive interview where we asked:
Where is Audi heading when it comes to electrification globally?
“Our brand DNA has always progressed using technology, and the future is electric. We’ll have a lineup of 20 electric cars by 2025, and by 2027, there will be an electric offering in each segment. 2025 and 2026 will be the last time a new combustion engine model will be released. 2027 onwards all new car launches will only be electric.
Between now and 2025, we’ll invest over $18 billion into this as we become more conscious of what society needs and requires, as it’s about contributing and giving back. Our progress revolves around sustainability and decarbonization. The shift to electric is certainly a global trend.”
There is an initiative on synthetic fuels by the VW group, and especially Porsche, how does that affect strategy of electrification?
“Synthetic fuels and biofuels are a good idea for those geographies where electrification is more difficult, however, I do maintain that electrification is the better option, and our overall strategy and progress will be based on an electric future.”
How do you see the Electric Vehicle (EV) infrastructure in our region?
“For an electric future to thrive, infrastructure is key, and the responsibility lies with real estate developers and the state. Thanks to tax advantages and government incentives, the UAE is ahead of the curb. Dubai has one of the highest electric charges per car in the world and moving steadily with the development of high-performance chargers. If drivers can charge 25 percent of their battery in 5 to 10 minutes, it makes a huge difference. We have plans to invest more into fast chargers. It really is one of our primary focus areas as it will play an essential role in connecting important cities and routes together, therefore developing the infrastructure network.”
EM: What about Saudi Arabia and EVs?
“Saudi is certainly one of the future markets, having a big potential, and our local partners are important in developing the electric infrastructure there. For us as a company, it’s not only about launching cars, but the mission is also to decarbonize and that is only possible once there is an ecosystem in place. In short, Saudi is an important part of our electric future.”
How do Government efforts in the GCC measure up to those in Western Europe when it comes to electrification initiatives?
“I think it’s clear that all are on board with the idea that the future is electric – they understand the need to have a clear framework and support in various ways, and we see that both in the private and public sector.”
EM: How important is the region in terms of EV sales and the appetite for EVs?
“The region is very tech-savvy with a progressive mindset, which is a perfect match for electric mobility. But of course, we can’t forget that historically, the region’s wealth derives from different energy sources, therefore change will take a little longer. What we see in the region is more emotional buying when it comes to cars. In comparison, European purchase decisions are often based on clear tax incentives where the cost of ownership benefits are the deciding factors for buying EVs.
Overall, I’m happy with the current customer demand. We see that customers have an appetite for electrification and they accept the technology. It would make a strong statement to have an all-electric super sports car in this region.”
In terms of customers, what is the ratio of combustion engines versus EVs?
“With our premium customers we see a significant number having both, but a typical first electric car for them is often their third or fourth car of the household.”
When talking reach vs charging time, which is the more significant challenge?
“The new generation of EVs have a reach of some 500 km plus. An average daily commute in the region is around 50 km, which means you would need to charge once a week. Some may feel the need to charge even if at 75% battery, but this will change as infrastructure develops.
It also depends on whether you live in a high-rise building that has sufficient charging stations or in a villa. We offer home installation services with our e-Tron. For all EV drivers, there are benefits from Dubai’s DEWA in terms of electricity costs. I’d say the challenge is more on the charge time.
We see the conviction of our customers coming from the enjoyment of driving EVs. If you’re driving an e-Tron GT, the power is instant and it’s a real sports car. Our research and customer data show that electric car owners would never go back into a combustion engine and plugin-hybrid owners would progress into an electric car. I think when you see your customers here in an e-Tron GT, they have a big smile on their face.”
As for the semiconductor crisis, what is Volkswagen Group doing to combat the shortage?
“With Covid-19, the world saw a huge increase in the demand for electronics and the demand for semiconductor chips. For the automotive industry, supply of chips has always been tier two, and tier three business, which means we give our orders to our suppliers and they send them to their suppliers. It’s never been a direct business. There are certainly lessons learned and while I can’t be specific, we have plans in the pipeline to avoid such crises in the future with different supply strategies.”
How has your presence championed the cause of women in leadership over the years?
“We have two female board members already, and while it’s not good enough, it’s a big step forward. With my team, we have developed something called LLE; Listen, Learn Exchange. Gender diversity is only one part of inclusion, and we have set up a real program on empowering more young females to come into these jobs. As the auto industry changes from metal bending the old world into high tech, software-driven, and customer-centric organizations, it has created the perfect new job profiles for young, bright female and male talents.
I think it’s important that you don’t have a quota in your head, but rather an attitude in your mindset, that’s what I’m trying to promote.”
What inspired you to get into automotive?
“On my 18th birthday, the first thing I did was to get my driver’s license and a car. That feeling of independence and pride was something else. My first job was outside of automotive, where I gained insights into the sophistication of branding, luxury, etc. Then I applied to BMW, and the rest is history.”
What’s new in the pipeline?
“This year we continue with new models such as the RS range, which will launch very soon with five legendary engines. We are also introducing the new 8 and its derivative, the S8. This is the product side. We will also concentrate on customer specificity, where we put the customer experience and needs at the top of our agenda.